Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign announced on Tuesday.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s choice to join him on the ticket has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over her career. Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.
It remains to be seen whether she will push Biden in the same direction, as the former vice president has maintained opposition to ending marijuana prohibition despite supermajority support among Democrats.
While Harris, a former attorney general of California, made marijuana reform a major component of her criminal justice platform when she unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, she’s been less vocal about the issue since dropping out in December 2019.
Convincing Biden to come around seems like a steep task in any case. Some advocates suspect that the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee voted against an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank specifically because it’s at odds with the presumptive nominee’s agenda. Biden has drawn the line at decriminalizing marijuana possession, expunging past convictions, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization and letting states set their own policies.
But it remains the case that Harris is the chief Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that includes various social equity and restorative justice provisions. Advocates will be watching to see if she continues to advocate for the reform move as she’s on-boarded to the Biden campaign.
The senator indicated in July that she doesn’t plan to push the presumptive presidential nominee on the issue.
Here’s a deeper look at where Harris stands on marijuana.
This piece was last updated on November 2, 2020 to include the candidate’s most recent statements and policy actions on marijuana.
Legislation And Policy Actions
As noted, Harris’s most notable contribution with respect to cannabis reform legislation is her sponsorship of the MORE Act.
“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” she said when introducing the bill. “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.
The senator first came out in support of legalization in 2018, adding her name to a different far-reaching bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The legislation, the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and also penalize states where marijuana laws are enforced disproportionately against people of color. She also cosponsored the 2019 version of the bill.
The fact is, marijuana laws are not applied and enforced in the same way for all people. That’s why I've signed onto @CoryBooker’s Marijuana Justice Act to make marijuana legal at the federal level. It’s the smart thing to do. pic.twitter.com/JD5qqm0bfU
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 10, 2018
“Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” she said in a press release. “Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor and I know it as a senator.”
The senator sponsored bills aimed at repairing land in California that’s been impacted by illicit cannabis grows and another piece of legislation that would protect people with drug convictions from losing public housing.
Harris also signed a letter alongside Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that called on the Justice Department to stop blocking federal research into medical cannabis. In a separate sign-on letter, she joined her colleagues in requesting that lawmakers include protections for legal cannabis states in a spending bill.
It is also worth noting that Harris touted her office’s drug enforcement actions on her website while running for reelection as San Francisco district attorney. One page said she “closed legal loopholes that were allowing drug dealers to escape prosecution,” and another bragged she “increased convictions of drug dealers from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.”
Most Recent Comments And Actions
Harris stressed in August that there will be a “policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana” in a Biden administration.
She also said the following month that the administration won’t be “half-steppin’” with “incrementalism” as far as criminal justice reform is concerned. That said, the senator stopped short of pledging marijuana legalization, saying they would only decriminalize cannabis and expunge prior records.
The senator has made a habit of raising the decriminalization and expungements pledge since joining the ticket with Biden.
In September 2020, she again made the pledge to enact that reform if the pair are elected.
At a vice presidential debate with Mike Pence, she made the same promise—though she seemed uneasy when she was attacked over her own drug enforcement record as a prosecutor.
Harris said in October 2020 that the administration would have “a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”
She similarly said that she has a “deal” with Biden to candidly share feedback on policy issues where they disagree, including on cannabis legalization.
At campaign events in Texas and Nevada, Harris reaffirmed that decriminalization would be a priority if the Democratic ticket is elected. She made the same comments in a recent interview, adding that the pair will be “making sure no one is put behind bars just because they’ve used drugs.”
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June, Harris discussed how a black man incarcerated over a marijuana offense died after contracting coronavirus. She stated that the case illustrated how “we have two systems of justice in America” based on race.
She and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) made a similar point in a letter to Attorney General William Barr that month.
Harris and two other senators wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in June, criticizing Republicans in the chamber for putting forth a policing reform bill that they argue is inadequate, in part because it does not ban no-knock raids in drug cases as House Democrats did in that chamber’s legislation.
The senator and 43 other members of Congress urged the Justice Department to investigate the death of 26-year-old black woman Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In September, Harris cited racial disparities in marijuana enforcement as an example of how there are effectively two separate systems of justice in the country for people of color and white people.
In April, she signed onto a letter to Senate leadership, imploring them to include language in coronavirus relief legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to access federal relief dollars just as companies in other industries can.
Marijuana small businesses employ more than 240,000 workers and should be allowed to access coronavirus relief funds too. My colleagues and I are pushing to ensure they’re not left out of Congress’s next relief package.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) April 24, 2020
“Marijuana small businesses employ more than 240,000 workers and should be allowed to access coronavirus relief funds too,” she tweeted. “My colleagues and I are pushing to ensure they’re not left out of Congress’s next relief package.”
Also that month, Harris and 10 other senators sent a letter to leadership in a key committee asking that they add a provision allowing cannabis businesses to access federal loan services in spending legislation.
When the governor of Illinois issued pardons for more than 11,000 people with cannabis convictions the day before legal sales started, the senator said she applauded the decision.
I applaud Illinois’ leadership on this issue. Expunging non-violent marijuana-related offenses is the right thing to do.
Now let’s legalize marijuana at the federal level.https://t.co/7M4of9Aikg
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 4, 2020
“Expunging non-violent marijuana-related offenses is the right thing to do,” she said. “Now let’s legalize marijuana at the federal level.”
Harris joined a group of senators in December 2019 in pressing top federal drug and health agencies to provide an update on the status of efforts to increase the number of authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
Also that month, she and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers sent a letter to the Justice Department, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
On the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20, Harris tweeted that the Senate “must pass my Marijuana Opportunity Act to legalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge non-violent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.”
The Senate must pass my Marijuana Opportunity Act to legalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge non-violent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 20, 2020
Using loaded war on drugs rhetoric, she called President Trump a “drug pusher” for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
On The Presidential Campaign Trail
During her own presidential run, Harris released a criminal justice plan that says “it is past time to end the failed war on drugs, and it begins with legalizing marijuana.”
It’s time to end mass incarceration.
This includes legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons. With the addition of job training and education, these actions will reduce crime and help build healthy communities.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 9, 2019
“It’s time to end mass incarceration,” she tweeted the same day. “This includes legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons. With the addition of job training and education, these actions will reduce crime and help build healthy communities.”
After House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced a markup of the MORE Act in November, Harris wrote that the “War on Drugs was an abject failure” and that it’s “time to legalize marijuana and bring justice to people of color harmed by failed drug policies.”
The War on Drugs was an abject failure. It's time to legalize marijuana and bring justice to people of color harmed by failed drug policies.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) November 18, 2019
“Grateful for [Nadler’s] partnership on this issue,” she said. “I look forward to getting our bill one step closer to becoming law.”
After the committee approved the legislation, Harris wrote, “Not only do we need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, but we have to do it right and bring justice to communities of color” and said the MORE Act would accomplish that.
Not only do we need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, but we have to do it right and bring justice to communities of color.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) November 20, 2019
“Last week, my bill to legalize marijuana passed through House committee with bipartisan support,” she said. “I’ll say it again: we can’t legalize marijuana without addressing the injustices to people of color caused by the War on Drugs. My bill would do just that.”
Last week, my bill to legalize marijuana passed through House committee with bipartisan support.
I’ll say it again: we can't legalize marijuana without addressing the injustices to people of color caused by the War on Drugs. My bill would do just that.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) November 26, 2019
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another presidential candidate, criticized Harris’s prosecutorial record during a Democratic debate in August. In a follow-up interview, the senator evaded a question about the exchange, dismissing the critique by stating that “I’m obviously a top tier candidate and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight because there are a lot of people that are trying to make the stage for the next debate.”
The Bay Area News Group analyzed the marijuana prosecution record of Harris and said the findings demonstrate that her history “is more nuanced than those debate-stage confrontations indicate.”
Days after former Vice President Joe Biden, another presidential candidate, said he doesn’t support adult-use legalization because marijuana could be a gateway to more dangerous drugs, Harris tweeted “marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized.”
Let's be clear: marijuana isn't a gateway drug and should be legalized. Glad to see my bill with Rep. Nadler take the next step in the House this week. https://t.co/d6BcMFlpYT
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 18, 2019
The candidate said that cannabis legalization is an example of an issue she’s changed her mind on over time during an interview with NowThis.
‘We all will rise or fall together.’ — Sen. @KamalaHarris talks her big middle-class tax cut, her evolving cannabis stance, and the ‘Star Wars’ actor that left her starstruck
Watch Harris answer all of our '20 Questions for 2020.' pic.twitter.com/C7gFgTh7Q1
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) July 9, 2019
“The whole war on drugs was a complete failure,” she said during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “That approach is the gateway to America’s problem with mass incarceration.” She didn’t directly answer a question about what made her change her mind about cannabis reform from prior opposition to legalization, however.
“The criminalization of marijuana has been such a big part of what has fueled America’s system of mass incarceration,” she said.
‘The criminalization of marijuana has been such a big part of what has fueled America's system of mass incarceration’ — @KamalaHarris explains why she supports legalizing cannabis pic.twitter.com/kI8kuM0ld2
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 18, 2019
“There are thousands of people labeled felons for life for selling marijuana, while people out there are making a fortune from the marijuana industry,” the senator said. “This is an injustice, and as president, I’ll fix it.”
Prior to a House vote on legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses, Harris joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and fellow presidential contenders Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in expressing concern about approving cannabis bills that would largely benefit the industry without first passing comprehensive legalization legislation.
I agree. We shouldn’t do this without addressing the reality that people of color are being shut out of the legal marijuana industry.
That means not only legalizing marijuana but also expunging criminal records and providing a path for people of color to enter the industry. https://t.co/M1Ri1iDKra
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 21, 2019
“We shouldn’t do this without addressing the reality that people of color are being shut out of the legal marijuana industry,” she said of the banking bill. “That means not only legalizing marijuana but also expunging criminal records and providing a path for people of color to enter the industry.”
Following the vote in favor of the legislation, Harris tweeted that the reform is “important, but it’s not enough” and that we “need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and create paths for people of color to enter the legal marijuana industry.”
Last week, the House passed a bill to give marijuana businesses access to banking. That’s important, but it's not enough.
We need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and create paths for people of color to enter the legal marijuana industry.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 29, 2019
“We must ensure that as marijuana becomes a bigger business, we are committing ourselves to rebuilding communities that have been disproportionately targeted by failed drug policies and creating a diverse industry going forward,” she wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “If we fail to address a system that has historically been infected by racial bias, communities of color will continue to shoulder the devastating impacts of the past.”
“Times have changed. We must get smart on marijuana reform and give everyone the opportunity to reap the benefits that come from the legal marijuana industry,” she said.
After Illinois’s governor signed a marijuana legalization bill in June, Harris said she’s thankful that “states like Illinois are stepping up to correct the mistakes of our past” and that it’s “time to do the same at the federal level.”
Thankful states like Illinois are stepping up to correct the mistakes of our past. It’s time to do the same at the federal level. https://t.co/FHZuTYS8do
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 1, 2019
“As the marijuana industry continues to grow, there are people of color sitting behind bars for doing the exact same thing. It’s time we changed the system,” Harris said at a conference in April 2019, adding that those most impacted by the war on drugs should be prioritized when it comes to job opportunities in the legal industry.
As the marijuana industry continues to grow, there are people of color sitting behind bars for doing the exact same thing. It's time we changed the system. #SheThePeople2020 pic.twitter.com/7KotnCqihx
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 24, 2019
She also pledged to pardon some non-violent drug offenders if elected president.
“We have to have the courage to recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been incarcerated who should not have been incarcerated and are still in prison because they were convicted under draconian laws that have incarcerated them… for what is essentially a public health issue,” she said.
In November, Harris discussed the need for industry equity and joked about businesses claiming that rubbing CBD lotion all over one’s body is a cure-all.
The senator said that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue and “not in jails and prisons,” adding that people with prior cannabis convictions should be “first in line” to get jobs in the legal market.
Harris also said she would implement “mental health care on demand and drug treatment on demand.”
“As President of the United States, one of the things I will implement is that we have mental health care on demand and drug treatment on demand.”
— Women's March – Text VOTE to 44310 (@womensmarch) April 24, 2019
“Countless Americans have felt the devastating ramifications of the War on Drugs—millions still remain incarcerated to this day,” Harris said in March. “This is a matter of public health, drug addiction, and economic security. I’ll say it again as I did in 2008: it was a complete failure.”
Countless Americans have felt the devastating ramifications of the War on Drugs — millions still remain incarcerated to this day. This is a matter of public health, drug addiction, and economic security. I’ll say it again as I did in 2008: it was a complete failure. pic.twitter.com/WLjk5dMp1b
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) March 9, 2019
“Our justice system continues to target and imprison young Black and Latinx Americans at high levels due to outdated, unjust marijuana laws,” she wrote. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we must legalize marijuana across the country.”
Our justice system continues to target and imprison young Black and Latinx Americans at high levels due to outdated, unjust marijuana laws. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we must legalize marijuana across the country.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 26, 2019
She also discussed her views on marijuana and drug policy during a campaign stop in New Hampshire in July.
“We have to treat it as a public health issue, specifically on the issue of marijuana,” Harris said. “We incarcerated whole entire populations, in particular young men of color, for possessing marijuana, and they ended up being felons for life on an issue that was literally—if you look at it just in terms of the disparities in terms of who was arrested, who was incarcerated and who was abusing—it was just wrong.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, which provided guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, she said the Justice Department shouldn’t be focused on “going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”
California needs federal support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations. What we don’t need is Jeff Sessions going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) January 5, 2018
Sessions should be focusing on issues like transnational criminal organizations and investigating and prosecuting human trafficking, not going after Californians who are using recreational and medicinal marijuana.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 8, 2018
“This administration and Jeff Sessions want to take us back to the dark ages,” Harris said at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference in 2017. “Sessions has threatened that the United States Department of Justice may renew its focus on marijuana use even as states like California, where it is legal.”
“Well, let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions,” she said. “We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations, dealing with issues like human trafficking—not going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana. Leave her alone.”
Harris hadn’t signed onto any marijuana reform legislation during the time she was going after Sessions. But she was using the battle to solicit signatures on a petition, a common tactic that politicians use to build email lists that they can later use for fundraising. Several House members pressured her and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to take stronger action by blocking Justice Department nominees until the Cole memo was restored.
The senator has repeatedly called for federal cannabis decriminalization, characterizing existing laws as “regressive policies” that have “ruined” many lives.
It’s time to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. It’s time to stop repeating the same mistakes of the past.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 20, 2018
Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level isn’t just the smart thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do. We can’t keep repeating the same mistakes of the past. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 14, 2018
“We need to decriminalize marijuana,” she said. “We have a problem of mass incarceration in our country. And let’s be clear, the war on drug was a failed war. It was misdirected.”
Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level isn’t just a smart thing to do —it’s the right thing to do. We can’t keep repeating the same mistakes of the past. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 11, 2018
She has also criticized the federal government for blocking military veterans’ access to medical cannabis.
“As states moves toward legalizing marijuana, let’s remember how many lives have been ruined because of our regressive policies,” Harris wrote. “We must focus on restorative justice.”
As states moves toward legalizing marijuana, let's remember how many lives have been ruined because of our regressive policies. We must focus on restorative justice.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 11, 2018
In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Harris said “I started my career as a baby prosecutor during the height of the crack epidemic—not all drugs are equal.”
“We have over-criminalized so many people, in particular poor youth and men of color, in communities across this country and we need to move it on the schedule,” she said. “Plus we need to start researching the effect of marijuana and we have not been able to do it because of where it is on the schedule.”
Harris congratulated Canada on its national legalization of marijuana in 2018.
Congratulations to Canada on moving forward with the legalization of marijuana. As the world moves forward, we can’t afford to keep making the same mistakes of the past — it’s time to legalize marijuana at the federal level.https://t.co/BnUKR2fErF
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 22, 2018
Curiously, however, Harris also has a habit of referring to the war on drugs in the past tense—as if it isn’t the case that hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are still being arrested for cannabis and other drugs every year.
The war on drugs was an abject failure which affects all of our communities, especially those struggling. We can’t turn the clock back. https://t.co/5b2fH4aBap
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 16, 2017
The war on drugs was a failure. It criminalized what is a public health matter. It was a war on poor communities more than anything.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 21, 2017
“The war on drugs was a failure,” she said in 2017. “It criminalized what is a public health matter. It was a war on poor communities more than anything.”
She also accused Sessions of “resuscitating” the drug war.
During her time as a prosecutor, Harris said she “saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure.”
“It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet,” she said.
The fact is, the War on Drugs did not work.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) May 16, 2017
“I’ll tell you what standing up for the people also means,” Harris said in 2015. “It means challenging the policy of mass incarceration by recognizing the war on drugs was a failure. And Democrats, on that point, let’s be clear also: now is the time to end the federal ban on medical marijuana. It is.”
During a speech announcing her presidential candidacy, Harris said, “Once and for all, we have got to call drug addiction what it is: a national, public health emergency. And what we don’t need is another war on drugs.”
Before Harris backed full legalization or federal decriminalization, she was supportive of rescheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. Asked about the policy in 2016, she said “I would work to remove marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.”
“We need to reform our criminal justice system and changing the marijuana classification and drug sentencing laws are part of that effort.”
At a debate that year, she predicted that California voters would approve full legalization via a ballot measure (which they did) and reiterated that “we have to do is move [marijuana] from Schedule I to Schedule II.”
“We have incarcerated a large number of predominantly African American and Latino men in this country for possession and use at a very small scale of one of the least dangerous drugs in the schedule,” she said.
It is worth noting that Harris did not publicly endorse California’s successful 2016 cannabis legalization ballot initiative, though it is unknown how she personally voted on the measure.
Two years earlier, Harris told BuzzFeed that while she wasn’t ready to back the idea of legalization, she was “not opposed” to it and that there was “a certain inevitability about it.”
“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” she said. “The detail of these things matters… I don’t have any moral opposition to it or anything like that. Half my family’s from Jamaica.”
But amid an earlier attempt to legalize marijuana in California through a 2010 initiative that appeared on the same ballot as Harris’s candidacy for state attorney general, she called the measure a “flawed public policy.” Her campaign manager said she “supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that” and that she “believes that drug selling harms communities.”
She also co-authored an argument against the measure that appeared in the state’s official ballot guide, stating that legalization “seriously compromises the safety of our communities, roadways, and workplaces.”
During a speech at The Commonwealth Club in 2010, Harris scoffed at a question about cannabis reform and said “I’m not a proponent of that, but I know that there are a lot of people who are. It’s not my issue.” At the same event she spoke about prosecuting people for selling drugs, saying, “I don’t feel sorry for you and I’m not going to forgive you for committing a crime.”
Harris was then asked about legalizing marijuana. She laughed at the idea. pic.twitter.com/7DWpFonRd5
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) July 2, 2019
Later, during her stint as attorney general, Harris received criticism from some marijuana policy reform advocates for not doing more to push back against federal prosecutors’ crackdown against locally approved California medical cannabis dispensaries during the first term of the Obama administration, though she did send a series of letters on the topic and made some public statements.
“The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes,” she wrote in a letter to the state’s U.S. attorneys.
She also called on state lawmakers to clarify California’s medical cannabis laws in a separate letter, which argued that reforms might ward off further federal intervention. “Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist,” she wrote.
“Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana,” she said in a statement around the same time. “While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.’”
An analysis by the Washington Free Beacon determined that at least 1,560 people were sent to California state prisons for marijuana-related offenses during Harris’s tenure as attorney general.
In a 2008 book, Harris argued that nonviolent crimes “exact a huge toll on America’s communities” and that it’s “important to fight all crime.”
Kamala Harris's 2008 book "Smart on Crime": "Nonviolent crimes exact a huge toll on America's communities…It's important to fight all crime. Drug crimes in particular exact a terrible toll and rob people young and old of hope." pic.twitter.com/cjeo71Mu0x
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) July 5, 2019
“Drug crimes in particular exact a terrible toll and rob people young and old of hope,” she wrote.
Harris’s overall evolution on cannabis can be neatly summed up with two videos. The first shows her being asked about marijuana legalization in 2014 in light of her Republican opponent for attorney general supporting it. She dismissively laughs off the question.
The second shows Harris during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing pressing President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, on whether he’d use Justice Department funds to go after marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law.
HARRIS: You do not intend to use fed resources to enforce fed marijuana law in states that have legalized?
BARR: “That’s right. But I think i’s incumbent on the Congress to make a decision as to whether we are going to have a federal system.” pic.twitter.com/owWekY9PqP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 15, 2019
Harris even attempted to crack her own marijuana joke during a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though the late night host didn’t seem especially amused.
In her book, The Truths We Hold, she took her message in support of legalization a step further. Not only should we “legalize marijuana and regulate it,” but we should also “expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives,” Harris wrote.
“We also need to stop treating drug addiction like a public safety crisis instead of what it is: a public health crisis,” she also wrote, suggesting she may be in favor of broader drug policy reforms. “When someone is suffering from addiction, their situation is made worse, not better, by involvement in the criminal justice system.”
It’s past time America legalized marijuana and regulated it. But when doing so, we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 10, 2019
Harris’s presidential campaign website hosts a petition to legalize marijuana.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Harris revealed in a radio interview that she smoked marijuana in college while listening to Tupac and Snoop Dogg, saying, “It gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy in the world.”
— The Breakfast Club (@breakfastclubam) February 11, 2019
But that admission sparked a small controversy, with several people pointing out that neither artist had released their debut albums prior to Harris graduating. She conceded in November that she “ definitely was not clear about what I was listening to” while consuming cannabis.
In a separate interview, the senator said that she knows people who have benefited from using medical cannabis.
Marijuana Under A Biden-Harris Administration
Both Harris and Biden have evolved their positions on cannabis over time. Harris, a former prosecutor who campaigned against legalization in her own state has become the lead sponsor of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. Biden, who authored punitive drug legislation during his time as a senator, now supports modest cannabis reforms such as decriminalization and rescheduling, though he continue to oppose legalization. If the Democratic ticket gets elected, it remains to be seen to what extent the new administration would prioritize drug policy reform efforts and whether Harris would seek to encourage Biden to get behind full legalization.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.
Bill To Allow Medical Marijuana Use At Hotels And Airbnbs Filed In Missouri
Hotels, Airbnbs and other lodging facilities in Missouri would be allowed to let medical marijuana patients consume cannabis on their properties under a recently filed bill.
The legislation, titled the “Reduction of Illegal Public Consumption by Allowing for Compassionate Access to Medical Marijuana Act,” would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services to create a new “medical marijuana lodging establishment” license for the facilities. They would have to submit an application and a $50 fee to the agency in order to obtain the new approval.
Once licensed, lodging facilities would have to follow certain rules such as confirming that guests are registered medical cannabis patients, posting signage that says marijuana can be consumed on the property and ensuring that consumption areas are at least 25 feet away from sections where its prohibited.
Places that knowingly permit cannabis to be used without a license would be subject to a $1,000 fine for a first offense, $2,000 for a second, $5,000 for a third and the suspension of their business license for a fourth.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Theoretically, if this bill is approved, it could promote tourism in the state, as it specifically allows hotels and other facilities to accept out-of-state medical cannabis certifications for guests.
There’s a similar policy on the books in Colorado, where a bill providing for social consumption site licenses was signed last year.
In a new related study, researchers took a look at the prevalence of Airbnbs allowing marijuana consumptions in Denver and found that it’s surprisingly common—much more so than for tobacco use.
“A substantial number of Airbnb listings in Denver, Colorado permit cannabis use and venues permitting cannabis use may be more likely to also permit tobacco smoking,” the abstract says.
About one-in-four facilities included details about their marijuana policy in the listing, and 76 percent of those permitted cannabis use while 31 percent let guests use tobacco.
The focus of the study, published this month in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, was to analyze indoor clear air issues related to marijuana at Airbnbs. It concluded that the facilities should “consider including cannabis use in house rules in jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis to help guests identify spaces with clean air.”
Missouri’s marijuana laws might not be as progressive as Colorado’s, but a Republican lawmaker did file a joint resolution last month that calls for adult-use legalization to be placed before voters on the 2022 ballot.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
Washington Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Homegrow Bill In Committee
A bill to allow marijuana homegrow in Washington State cleared its first legislative hurdle Friday morning, passing out of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee on a 7–2 vote with a “do pass” recommendation.
Washington voters approved a cannabis legalization initiative in 2012, and retail sales have been ongoing since mid-2014. Cultivating the plant for personal use, however, remains a felony.
“Washington was one of the first states to legalize, with understandable trepidation,” Rep. Shelley Kloba (D), the lead sponsor of HB 1019 and the chair of the House committee, said at Friday’s meeting. Homegrow, she said, “is one area where we’ve taken a more cautious approach and let other states test the waters.”
Of all other states that have begun legal cannabis sales in the years since Washington legalized, only one—Illinois—has outlawed homegrow. But in Illinois, advocates in Washington have pointed out, the offense is a civil infraction rather than felony crime.
Washington’s homegrow bill would allow adults to cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home and keep the marijuana those plants produce. Plants and containers of more than one ounce of cannabis would need to be labeled with the adult’s name, birthdate and address. Households with multiple adults could grow no more than 15 total plants.
While adults could give small amounts of homegrown cannabis to one another, unlicensed sales would remain illegal.
Plants would also need to be out of public view and unable to be “readily smelled” outside of the property. Growers who violate those limits would be subject to a civil infraction that carries a maximum $50 fine. Landlords, meanwhile, could decide whether or not to allow rental tenants to grow cannabis on the property.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
The limits on plants being seen or readily smelled by the public, Kloba said, “protects both the grower and the neighbors” by avoiding both possible theft of plants—a concern some have raised about homegrow—as well as nuisance odor from nearby properties.
Opponents of the bill, including the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, have complained the homegrow limits would be difficult to enforce. A representative of the group noted at a hearing last week that the bill would prevent police from entering a property unless they first obtained a warrant.
Rep. Eric Robertson (R), one of two lawmakers who voted against the bill Friday, said he was concerned that HB 1019 leaves enforcement to police agencies rather than the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), which regulates licensed cannabis businesses in the state. He described that provision as a “fatal flaw in the bill because there won’t be any reasonable or informed way to investigate this stuff without a huge impact to our cities.”
Kloba replied that LCB has authority over the state’s commercial cannabis system, “and this is clearly outside of it.”
The bill has support from numerous advocacy groups, including state and local drug reform advocates and the Washington Build Back Black Alliance (WBBBA), a group of nonprofit and business leaders lobbying on behalf of the state’s Black communities.
In a letter to lawmakers sent this week, Paula Sardinas of WBBBA noted that 97 percent of the state’s legal cannabis industry remains white-owned. “Assuming an expansion into homegrown would produce more [illicit] activity represents both systematic prejudice and implicit bias,” Sardinas wrote. “This very good bill meets the basic tests of both equity and equality.”
Lawmakers made a single amendment to HB 1019 on Friday before advancing the bill, adding changes meant to harmonize the state’s existing civil forfeiture law with the bill’s proposed homegrow limits. Existing law, for example, allows forfeitures when someone engaged in illegal commercial cannabis activity possesses five or more marijuana plants. The amendment raises that cap to 16 plants and slightly increases the amount of harvested cannabis a person can possess.
Kloba said the amendment, which the committee adopted Friday without objection, is meant “so that we don’t inadvertently allow people to do homegrow and then they get in trouble for doing so.”
Homegrow also won a small victory in Virginia on Friday as a state Senate committee voted to advance a bill to legalize marijuana in that state. Before approving the bill, lawmakers defeated a proposed amendment that would have outlawed home cultivation.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment the group “is pleased that cooler heads prevailed, defeating an absurd motion to remove personal cultivation from the bill.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, the House Commerce and Gaming committee also heard testimony Friday on a separate bill, HB 1210, that would update state law to replace references to “marijuana” with the word “cannabis.”
“The word ‘marijuana’ is a reminder of the history of racism and persecution,” argued the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Melanie Morgan (D), while “cannabis” comes from the plant’s scientific name. “I ask for this committee’s support in removing the racist stigma from communities of color.”
Chris Thompson, director of legislative relations for LCB, said the regulatory agency supports the legislation but would like to see a “friendly amendment” that would direct regulators to make the change on their side, too. Such direction would allow LCB to expedite agency rulemaking.
“If you were to make a very long bill just maybe one paragraph longer and direct our agency to do that with our rules,” Thompson told lawmakers, “then that would help us make this change across the board in one fell swoop.”
Arizona Begins Recreational Marijuana Sales, Just Weeks After Voters Approve Legalization
Arizona marijuana sales for the adult-use market officially began on Friday after state officials began notifying retail business license applicants that they’d been approved.
The launch comes just weeks after voters in the state overwhelmingly passed a cannabis legalization initiative during November’s election. This marks the fastest transition from voter-approval to sales implementation of any state that has legalized marijuana to date.
Under the measure, regulators were required to quickly develop rules for the market. Industry stakeholders say they’ve had productive conversations with the Department of Health Services to create those guidelines over the past few weeks.
The department released two draft versions of its proposed regulations and then, earlier this month, began accepting applications for recreational business licenses. This first round of approvals is for existing medical cannabis dispensaries that have already gone through the state’s prior licensing process.
“ADHS has received 79 applications since the application period began early Wednesday,” the department said in a press release on Friday. “Six of those applications remain under review,” meaning that 73 facilities can now begin adult-use cannabis sales. The full list of those stores is at the bottom of this story.
— Justin Lum (@jlumfox10) January 22, 2021
Those who aren’t currently operating a medical marijuana shops can still apply for an adult-use license during this first round if they plan to operate in a county with two or fewer existing dispensaries. Applications for those who aren’t eligible in this phase will be open soon and are expected to be approved starting in the spring.
Samuel Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association, told Marijuana Moment that the “dedicated focus and professionalism of our regulators have really played out here in an incredible way.”
“We had overwhelming support in November—a three to two margin, 60-40 percent. We got over the finish line,” he said. “It’s great to see that our regulators responded to that overwhelming support by working as fast as they can to get the infrastructure in place to allow the two million Arizonans that voted ‘yes’ for Prop 207 to start to enjoy the benefits of legal, adult-use cannabis.”
Recreational marijuana sales are now legal in Arizona. Here is the scene at Harvest in Scottsdale that started selling recreational at around noon today. pic.twitter.com/20RW76nzij
— David Wallace (@DavidWallce) January 22, 2021
Legalization advocates are cheering the state for its expediency in getting the recreational marijuana market off the ground.
Matthew Schweich, deputy director at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that it is “encouraging to see Arizona move forward with implementation of the legalization policy approved by voters in November.”
“By avoiding unnecessary delays, Arizona will accelerate the timeline for job creation, business investment, and new tax revenue,” he said.
“I commend state officials for prioritizing the implementation of Prop. 207 and ensuring that Arizona adults have safe and convenient access to affordable marijuana in a timely manner,” NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf, told Marijuana Moment. “Voters were crystal clear on their mandate at the ballot box: end the failed policy of criminalization and replace it with a legal pragmatic regulatory framework as soon as possible.”
“It’s time to stop ceding control and revenue of the marijuana market to unregulated and untaxed enterprises in order to eliminate the risks associated with an illicit market,” she said.
The rules for the adult-use market took effect on January 15. They cover licensing fees, the timeline for approvals, the structure of the regulatory body, product labeling, public safety protocols and more. Many of the changes from prior draft regulations were technical, but there was one notable change concerning credentialing for cannabis workers.
Rather than being credentialed for one specific facility, the worker registration was expanded so that they could be certified to be employed at any cannabis operation in the industry.
While these rules are in place for the newly approved retailers, Richard said regulators have made clear their intent to continue to work with stakeholders and continue to build upon their rules to ensure the market’s success.
A line for has already formed here at @HarvestHOC on Grant. They were approved for a recreational license today by AZDHS and have already started selling. @KOLDNews pic.twitter.com/jZMuGiP1Jg
— Karly Tinsley (@ktinsleynews) January 22, 2021
Under the state’s new legalization law, adults will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several provisions aimed at addressing the harms of prohibition such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program.
Cannabis sales will be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue will cover implementation costs and then be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
That revenue could also help the Arizona’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic, Richard said.
“At the time where folks are still struggling to recover across the country in terms of state budgets, we look forward to being a critical piece” of that recovery, he said.
Arizona’s quick response to voter approval of the reform initiative stands in stark contrast to New Jersey, where voters also approved a legalization referendum in November.
While regulations have been developed and retail sales are launching in Arizona, enabling legislation has faced numerous delays in New Jersey as lawmakers and the governor continue to hash out differences in their preferred regulatory approach.
That said, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said during his State of the State address last week that “we are on the verge of passing an innovative and groundbreaking set of laws to reform our historically unjust approach to marijuana and cannabis.” But the exact timeline to pass an implementation bill is yet to be determined.
See the full list of medical cannabis dispensaries authorized to sell recreational marijuana below:
|Facility Legal Name||County||City|
|Natural Relief Clinic Inc||Cochise||Bisbee|
|Desertview Wellness & Healing Solutions, LLC||Coconino||Flagstaff|
|Arizona Natures Wellness||Coconino||Sedona|
|Desert Medical Campus||Gila||Payson|
|High Desert Healing Llc||Maricopa||Avondale|
|Non Profit Patient Center Inc||Maricopa||Cave Creek|
|Azgm 3, Inc||Maricopa||Chandler|
|Border Health, Inc||Maricopa||Chandler|
|Total Health & Wellness Inc||Maricopa||Chandler|
|Total Health & Wellness Inc||Maricopa||Chandler|
|Arizona Cannabis Society Inc.||Maricopa||El Mirage|
|Fort Mountain Consulting, Llc||Maricopa||El Mirage|
|Absolute Health Care Inc||Maricopa||Gilbert|
|Ocotillo Vista, Inc.||Maricopa||Glendale|
|Pp Wellness Center||Maricopa||Glendale|
|Whoa Qc Inc||Maricopa||Glendale|
|Nature Med Inc||Maricopa||Guadalupe|
|4245 Investments Llc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Arizona Wellness Collective 3, Inc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Buds & Roses, Inc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Sea Of Green Llc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|The Giving Tree Wellness Center Of Mesa Inc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|The Healing Center Farmacy Llc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Valley Healing Group Inc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Vending Logistics Llc||Maricopa||Mesa|
|Pinal County Wellness Center||Maricopa||Peoria|
|Az Compassionate Care Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Catalina Hills Botanical Care Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Devine Desert Healing Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Fort Consulting, Llc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Greens Goddess Products, Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Healing Healthcare 3 Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Herbal Wellness Center Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Mohave Valley Consulting, Llc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Natural Herbal Remedies Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Natural Relief Clinic Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Nature’s Healing Center Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Nature’s Healing Center Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Organica Patient Group Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Phytotherapeutics Of Tucson||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|Rjk Ventures, Inc.||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|The Giving Tree Wellness Center Of North Phoenix Inc||Maricopa||Phoenix|
|The Kind Relief Inc||Maricopa||Queen Creek|
|Csi Solutions Llc||Maricopa||Scottsdale|
|Eba Holdings Inc.||Maricopa||Scottsdale|
|All Greens Inc||Maricopa||Sun City|
|East Valley Patient Wellness Group Inc||Maricopa||Sun City|
|Holistic Patient Wellness Group||Maricopa||Tempe|
|Salubrious Wellness Clinic Inc||Maricopa||Tempe|
|Kannaboost Technology Inc||Maricopa||Tempe|
|K Group Partners Llc||Maricopa||Youngtown|
|Sweet 5, Llc||Maricopa||Youngtown|
|Verde Dispensary Inc||Mohave||Kingman|
|Abedon Saiz Llc||Mohave||Lake Havasu City|
|Fwa Inc||Mohave||Lake Havasu City|
|Arizona Golden Leaf Wellness, Llc||Pima||Marana|
|Medmar Tanque Verde Llc||Pima||Tucson|
|Patient Care Center 301, Inc.||Pima||Tucson|
|Rainbow Collective Inc||Pima||Tucson|
|Nature’s Wonder Inc||Pinal||Apache Junction|
|Svaccha, Llc||Pinal||Apache Junction|
|Medical Pain Relief Inc||Pinal||Casa Grande|
|Sherri Dunn, Llc||Yavapai||Cottonwood|
|203 Organix, Llc||Yavapai||Prescott|