Where Does Kamala Harris Stand on Cannabis?

Kamala Harris


It’s official. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, has joined former Vice President Joe Biden on the Democratic presidential ticket. 

During their first joint interview last weekend, the pair discussed cannabis criminalization and drug policy reform. 

Harris, who previously called for more law enforcement officers in the streets in her 2009 book Smart on Crime, took time out to specifically express her longing for a “policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana.” 

While Harris’ previous prosecutorial record raises concern for those hoping for legalization, her attitude towards the plant seems to have drastically changed. 

Throughout her position as California Attorney General, Harris oversaw over 1,500 convictions for cannabis offenses, instating a critical eye in both her political opponents as well as cannabis advocates

During her tenure, felony conviction rates rose from 52% to 67%. 

In 2019, the senator also received backflash for her inability to address Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s, D-HI, criticism regarding the time she laughed about her own cannabis use

What Changed?

According to recent reports, however, Harris has turned over a new (cannabis) leaf. The same woman who was known for harsh crackdowns on gangs, legalization, and cannabis convictions is now pushing for reform and even legalization

In the recent interview with ABC, Harris expressed her hope for “a Department of Justice, unlike what Bill Barr is under Donald Trump, that is actually investigating these cases and enforcing consent decrees.” 

Harris is also pushing for a policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana. “Having a policy that is about looking at having a centralized database in our country that tracks police officers that have been found to break the rules or break the law,” she stated. “These are the kinds of things that need to be in place. Finally.” 

Harris also discussed her belief that cannabis should be legalized, as well as the need for better research, and disproportionate arrests in a 2019 radio interview with New York’s The Breakfast Club.

Further,  Harris sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to federally deschedule and legalize cannabis, and reinvest proceeds into over-policed communities.

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris in a statement

“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,” she stated. “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 this growing industry.”

What About Biden?

While Biden was opposed to the broad policy change, he did put forward proposals to decriminalize cannabis possession, legalize medical cannabis, expunge prior convictions and let states set their own policies. 

“We’re going to make sure that we change the entire system in the way in which we deal with criminal justice from punishment to rehabilitation, no one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction,” Biden expressed in the interview with ABC News.  

Instead, Biden proposed mandatory drug treatment for those suffering from substance misuse issues. 

The Biden campaign also noted back in May that his “Plan for Black America,” includes cannabis decriminalization policies and the expungement of cannabis convictions. 

All of these statements are good to hear. However, for many cannabis advocates, Harris’ harsh prosecutorial past makes it understandably hard to accept her allyship. 

Thus, the Emerald will continue to follow the newly confirmed nominees and keep our readers in-the-know with any updates. 


Written by Rita Thompson


Kamala Harris and Jerry Nadler Introduce Federal Decriminalization Bill

Emerald contributor since June 2019


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