Vice President Kamala Harris says that voters should elect lawmakers who support marijuana reform so that Congress can enact a “uniform approach” to the issue in light of the president’s cannabis pardons.
During an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Monday, Harris was asked whether she expects the House and Senate to follow up on President Joe Biden’s executive action with more expansive reform legislation.
She didn’t directly weigh in on the prospects of any specific bills or expressly advocate for legalization like she previously did as a senator and presidential candidate, but she said that “we’ve tried over the years” to enact legislative reform and reiterated that the administration is urging governors to “take our lead” by issuing pardons at the state level, where most marijuana cases are prosecuted.
Tonight, @SethMeyers talks to @VP @KamalaHarris in her first in studio late night appearance since taking office. Here’s an early look at the interview, where the vice president discusses marijuana decriminalization. pic.twitter.com/xWkfWjX1QN
— Late Night with Seth Meyers (@LateNightSeth) October 11, 2022
“I strongly believe in this—and the majority of Americans agree—nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” the vice president said. “Ultimately, though, as with so many issues, if Congress acts, then there is a uniform approach to this and so many other issues.”
“But Congress needs to act. We’re 29 days away from the midterms,” she said. “Ask who you’re voting for where they stand on this, and and I encourage you to vote accordingly.”
For his part, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said recently that he appreciates the “significant” step that the president has taken, but there’s “more that we can do” to address the drug war and he’s “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
While the senator said that he does believe legalization could pass, the expectation is that Congress will work to advance a package of incremental marijuana reform proposals that includes banking and research legislation during the lame duck session.
Harris said in a separate appearance over the weekend that “nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed.”
The vice president and top administration officials have been much more willing to discuss cannabis policy since the president issued the pardon proclamation and called for a review into the federal scheduling of marijuana.
Until now, Harris’s relative silence on the topic since taking office has been a point of frustration for advocates who had hoped that she would be an ally in the reform movement in the White House given her previously vocal support for legalization.
Back in April 2021, the last time Harris spoke publicly about marijuana before the pardons, she said that the administration was too busy dealing with “all-consuming” issues like vaccine distribution to take action on cannabis.
Harris sponsored a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill during her time in the Senate and repeatedly called for systemic policy changes during he own presidential campaign before joining Biden’s presidential ticket.
It was reported in March 2021 that Harris had adopted Biden’s more scaled-back stance on marijuana reform. The president continues to oppose adult-use legalization, though he’s backed decriminalization and letting states set their own cannabis policies without federal interference.
In 2020, after accepting the vice presidential nomination, she said simply that “we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone.”
That’s still a significant evolution compared to how Harris previously talked about marijuana policy as a prosecutor.
In 2010, she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure. She also laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014.
That’s despite the fact that, by Harris’s own admission in 2019 that she personally smoked marijuana during her time in college. She said in an interview that cannabis “gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy in the world.”
With respect to the new pardons, there’s a general recognition that the relief is largely symbolic, affecting about 6,500 people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses as well as those who violated the law in Washington, D.C. But the hope in the short-term is that governors will independently act to grant clemency in alignment with the White House. Some governors have since said that they would be reviewing the action.
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Several Cabinet-level officials have celebrated Biden’s cannabis reform actions, including the heads of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Department of Labor.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) also said that they would move to quickly process the pardons and carry out the scheduling review, which could have significant implications for federal cannabis policy depending on the eventual recommendation.
A poll released on Friday found that a majority of Americans are in favor of Biden’s pardon proclamation, and most also want to see their own governors follow suit with state-level cannabis relief.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.