President Joe Biden made major inroads with criminal justice advocates and stoners alike last week when he pardoned thousands of people with federal marijuana possession convictions. Right by his side was Vice-President Kamala Harris, who publicly touted the move as a “step forward.”
“Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” said Harris during her appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
But like with almost anything Harris does, conservative media personalities were quick to call the Vice President a hypocrite, citing her record of prosecuting people for marijuana convictions as Attorney General of California.
Attacks on Harris’ record as a prosecutor are nothing new. On the 2020 Presidential debate stage, former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard ripped into Harris during a conversation on racism. “She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations,” said Gabbard. “And then laughed about it when she asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
To set the record straight, Harris did not laugh about detaining people for marijuana convictions. She laughed on the Breakfast Club radio show when asked if she’d smoked marijuana.
But it is fair to talk about Harris’ complex relationship with marijuana.
As a senator, Harris championed marijuana decriminalization and eventually legalization. She signed Senator Cory Booker’s marijuana legalization bill in 2017, and she also introduced her own bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
But as an attorney general, her record is much more complicated. Harris oversaw roughly 1,956 misdemeanor and felony convictions for “marijuana possession, cultivation, or sale,” according to Reuters. However, defense attorneys and prosecutors in Harris’ office told Mercury News that most of the people convicted during this period did not serve jail time. And convictions for marijuana did go down under Harris’ tenure as district attorney.
At the end of the day, calling Harris out on her previous role in convicting folks for marijuana crimes isn’t entirely unfair. But it’s also pretty misleading to pretend that she pulled a switcheroo on the issue just in time for the midterms.