On Tuesday, presidential candidate Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, announced a proposal for a reform bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge marijuana-based records, and protects against discrimination for those who use or possess it.
Harris says, “As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone – especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs – has a real opportunity to participate in the is growing industry.”
However, this is a complete about-face from Harris’ views on the drug just two years ago, leading many to believe she is merely playing to the masses and doing what she thinks she needs to in order to attain more support as she continues her campaign for the White House.
When Harris was California’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017, she strongly opposed the legalization of marijuana and made sure that tens of thousands of those who used or possessed the drug were arrested, according to a 2016 Drug Policy Alliance report.
And while she goes on and on about the drug now and she wants to legalize it, just five years ago when asked about if it should be legalized in a TV interview in her home state, she laughed at the proposition.
But now, she is using it as one of the most significant pieces of her campaign, saying she would legalize it if she became president.
However, with the cooperation and support of House Judiciary Chair Jerrold (Jerry) Nadler, another Democrat who is from New York, it’s possible she could uphold her promise before the voting even begins, at least on the federal level.
She says, “Times have changed – marijuana should not be a crime.” She adds, “We need to start regulating marijuana and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
Is this her excuse for the change in position on the policy?
The landmark bill known as the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act” would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, making it legal for previous and pending convictions. Each state would then have the opportunity to set their own laws and policies on the drug, much like they do with alcohol.
In addition, the bill would allow Congress to use 50% of the annual tax revenue from the marijuana industry to create an Opportunity Trust Fund. This would be then split into three grant programs for individuals and communities who have been negatively impacted by the ‘War on Drugs.’ The Community Reinvestment Grant would provide job training, literacy courses, and re-entry services “for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.” The Cannabis Opportunity Grant would give funding to small cannabis-related businesses owned by low-income individuals. The last grant, the Equitable Licensing Grant, would make it easier for specific individuals to obtain a cannabis license.
The bill would also seek to end discrimination of those who use or possess marijuana. According to Nadler, “those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted.” It would prohibit landlords from denying federal housing to those who use or possess marijuana.
The bill would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to keep track of demographical information in the cannabis industry as a way to make sure that “communities of color” are actively participating in it. Also, it would no longer allow immigrants to be denied citizenship or deported based on marijuana charges.
Harris herself has admitted to smoking weed but said, “It was a long time ago.”
She said in February when she interviewed with “The Breakfast Club,” “There are a lot of reasons why we need to legalize” it. she went on to say that she thinks “it gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy.” She continued, saying, “and we need to research, which is one of the reasons we need to legalize it. But I’m absolutely in favor of legalizing marijuana. We’ve got to do it.”
She told theGrio, “My bill is centered squarely on addressing the harm that discriminatory drug policies have caused Black and Brown communities, while also charting a more equitable path forward for all.”