Debates 2020

Kamala Harris Promises To Decriminalize Marijuana and Expunge Records

The position is likely the strongest any major-party candidate for president or vice president has taken on the issue in such a prominent venue.

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Tonight's vice presidential debate yielded little clarity, with Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) and Vice President Mike Pence skirting question after question. One exception: Harris's promise that a Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana. 

"We will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana," she said.

The position is likely the strongest any major-party candidate for president or vice president has taken to date on the issue in such a prominent venue.

Though former Vice President Biden has historically resisted calls to ease up on drug enforcement, he seems to have turned on the issue this election cycle, telling supporters in May 2019 that "nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana." Most recently, Harris reiterated the position in a virtual town hall on September 14, assuring viewers that a Biden-Harris administration would "end incarceration for drug use alone." Campaign aide Symone Sanders said the same in an August 29 interview on MSNBC.

It's a rather recent pivot for Harris as well. While attempting to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, the senator campaigned on legalizing cannabis, telling radio host Charlamagne tha God that the drug "brings a lot of people joy."

As Reason's Nick Gillespie points out, however, it wasn't always that way: "When Harris was running for reelection as San Francisco's district attorney, she boasted that she 'closed legal loopholes that were allowing drug dealers to escape prosecution' and bragged that she 'increased convictions of drug dealers from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006,'" he writes. "But in the Senate, Harris has been an outspoken proponent of marijuana reform and rarely misses an opportunity to highlight her desire to legalize weed (and, on occasion, her past experience smoking it)."

And as Elizabeth Nolan Brown has reported, Harris "has a long record of pushing illiberal policies," including shuttering Backpage.com, threatening to prosecute parents with truant children, and harshly enforcing drug laws. "In an op-ed [in 2005] in the San Francisco Examiner, Harris complained that people had 'learned how to manipulate the system—by simply claiming to be addicts,'" writes Brown. "She proposed barring anyone who had previously sold any quantity of any drug from the Drug Court, and the chance it offered for lesser sentencing, even if the current arrest was for mere possession."

What we heard on the stage tonight appears to be a reconciliation with Biden's position: Harris dropped legalize and moved to decriminalize. Very little detail is available about the proposed reforms, but this would presumably mean selling marijuana will remain illegal, though users would avoid prosecution if caught with the drug—an important step in the right direction.

NEXT: Kamala Harris Refused To Answer a Direct Question About Whether a Biden Administration Would Pack the Supreme Court

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  1. She also promised to bring what she did as California AG to the rest of the country.
    Guess which promise actually matters.

    1. So….she will incarcerate as many young black men for weed as possible? = She also promised to bring what she did as California AG to the rest of the country.

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  2. She would have no power to do this. reason koch libs get orgasmic anyway.

    1. She could have the power and she totally would get around to it after she finishes cackling evilly.

      1. She could have the power and she totally would get around to it after she finishes cackling evilly. off old Joe.

        1. There are two ways to read “finishes off old Joe”—and I completely believe Harris would be willing to do either for more power.

        2. “Finishes off old Joe”

          Yeah, that’s what I was implying

    2. Note that all that Biden has said was “nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.”

      That’s not decriminalizing. That’s not even decriminalizing usage.

      Missing from the article is any mention of Harris sponsored *legislation* to decriminalize pot. She’s a Senator. Where’s her bill to make it happen?

      1. Yeah, good point. If she actually thinks this is important and means to do anything, why didn’t she do something in the senate? And let’s hear “descheduling” and repeal of federal laws that aren’t actually anything to do with interstate commerce.

      2. In fact, nobody is in jail for smoking marijuana. Possessing, dealing, driving under the influence of, sure; but not smoking. Somebody tell Biden. He will be so happy.

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        2. You can’t smoke marijuana without possessing it. As for “driving under the influence of”, how many of those are in jail after a test showed they were driving with enough active THC in the bloodstream to impair them? NOT ONE, because:
          1) Tests that measure THC (rather than detect unquantifiable amounts of metabolites) are rare and not often used, especially by police departments.
          2) The concentration of THC that causes actual impairment has not been scientifically established.

          In other words, nearly everyone convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana was convicted on the basis that tests proved they had smoked or otherwise ingested an unknown quantity of marijuana at an unknown time, which might be weeks before the test. Even if a test analogous to the breathalyzer for alcohol was used – and this is very rare – we don’t know what that result means in terms of the ability to drive.

    3. Yeah, that was a really easy promise to make when neither the VP nor even the President has any authority to deliver on it.

      The Legislature, on the other hand, could decriminalize marijuana tomorrow. As a sitting Senator, you’d think Harris would know that. And, if it really is that big a priority, maybe introduce a bill to that effect.

      1. The AG already has the authority to reschedule drugs.

    4. reason koch libs get orgasmic anyway.

      Yeah, didn’t even have to read the article. Reason was waiting for justification to vote Biden/Harris and Harris said “decriminalize” and “marijuana” in the same sentence.

      At this point, the legalization lobby at large is more libertarian than Reason.

  3. Nice promise which can’t be executed. Federal govt has no authority to change state laws or free state prisoners or expunge state criminal records, unless they want to go full retard and push to have anti-pot laws declared unconstitutional, and no politician wants to cripple the War on (Some) Drug (Users) that bad.

  4. No, Kamala Harris would not have the authority to legalize marijuana.

    -Ronald Bailey

    1. While actually in a position to initiate it.
      As VP, all the power she has is to vote in a tie.
      Which position had more power to decriminalize anything?
      Senator, you say? Hmmm…

      Binion is dumb.

      1. I remember thinking the exact same thing during the democrat primary debates, when all the candidates went on and on about all the legislation they’d pass if they were president.

        Aren’t you in a better position to pass legislation when you are part of the, you know, legislature?

      2. That’s a much better title for the article.

  5. Billy, you poor Useful Idiot. The democrat party refuses to repeal the unconstitutional controlled substances act.

    Democrats are fooling you into a weed vote even though the party of slavery voted to make weed illegal in the first place.

    1. Pence hit the point home how many Black Americans Harris locked up for drug offenses

      Trump will be reelected not matter how much unreason whore for Democrats.

      1. Pence called the PoPo on Harris about “niggahs smokin’ weed”

      2. Just depends if there’s enough idiots like you to get him reelected is all.

        1. Poor Lefties.

          More and more Black and Latino Americans will vote for Trump in 2020 which will mean Trump wins more states than he did in 2016.

        2. You’re assuming there are sufficient slack-jawed, drooling lefties like you to elect that slack-jawed, drooling Biden?

        3. Still butthurt after 2016. Can’t even sit down yet. Poor thing.

    2. Useful idiot, or coconspirator in a lie to useful idiots?

  6. Kamala Harris, Draconian Prosecutor, Promises To Decriminalize Marijuana and Expunge Records
    reason pls. Kamala Harris is full of shit. But keep carrying water for the fucking Democrats by all means.

    1. As I grow older it becomes more and more clear that there is no connection at all between what politicians say and what they do. The American electorate simply doesn’t care or doesn’t remember. Just tell them what they want to hear and enough of them will buy it every time.

  7. You can smoke marijuana as long as you don’t remove your mask.

  8. Did she really promise to expunge the records of those convicted of a marijuana conviction? Does that include all the people she ha prosecuted under those laws?
    She must have hundreds, if not thousands of marijuana convictions in her portfolio, and the people she convicted must have been shocked by her flippancy about prior use of marijuana and maybe the hope of having their convictions nullified because of ganja smoking DA hypocrisy.

    1. No, it doesn’t include them, since they were state convictions, not federal.

  9. “We will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana,” she said.

    Literally nobody has ever been arrested or prosecuted, much less convicted or imprisoned, of marijuana. That statement doesn’t even make sense. Now if you want to clarify that statement to say you will expunge the records of people who have been convicted for drug use alone, I dare say there can’t be very many federal prisoners who have been convicted for drug use alone, the feds only get involved in trafficking cases, nobody’s doing 3 to 5 for simply smoking a joint.

    And as far as decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, Harris is a senator. What’s the Senate Bill number of the prospective law she’s introduced? Has she introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana? If she hasn’t, I’d have to guess she’s just talking shit. She’s made no effort to decriminalize marijuana and vowing to expunge the record of people who have been imprisoned merely for drug use when there are no people who have been imprisoned merely for drug use is an empty promise.

    1. What we heard on the stage tonight appears to be a reconciliation with Biden’s position

      No, what you heard was bullshit from a bullshitting politician. She’s vowed to do something that, as Vice President she will have no power at all to deliver on, while, as a Senator, she has refused to deliver on while she actually has the power to do so. The idea that her statement somehow shows what she’s thinking is exactly right, but not in the way you think. Her statement shows that she thinks she can bullshit the voters.

      1. OK, fair enough. Though she didn’t get to it until she was running for president.

        1. True. I don’t think her change of heart on the marijuana issue is anything but a political calculation.

  10. Well that’s enough for The guys at this magazine. A candidate can promise to nationalize the economy, seize private property and censor free speech but as long as they promise to make weed legal the one-issue Reason editors will embrace them.

    1. Don’t forget open borders and ignore foreign trade abuses.

    2. “Embrace” seems a bit strong.

      More open immigration and unilateral free trade are actual libertarian positions, whatever you think of their practical consequences or utility.

      1. More open immigration and unilateral free trade are actual libertarian positions

        Positions that libertarians hold, sure. Positions that all libertarians hold or that libertarian principles hew to, no.

        Giving piles of cash and IP to totalitarian regimes that brutalize their own people in exchange for cheap goods and labor is not a libertarian position. Compelling domestic taxpayers to cover the costs of the social support networks for foreign immigrants driven out of their home by violent regimes in exchange for their cheap labor is not a libertarian position.

        1. No, but not preventing people from engaging in commerce with whomever they choose is the default libertarian position. You need a damn good reason to interfere with that. And the welfare state and bad actors in nations with which we trade may well be damn good reasons. But it’s still a compromise of libertarian principle.
          Seems to me you can pick one of: principled libertarianism or practical politics.

      2. Embracing violates the 6-foot rule.

  11. There is nothing that Kamala Harris can say that will give me any reason to trust her. Kamala Harris sitcks her finger in the air to see how the winds are blowing and will adjust her position.

    It’s not that I like Mike Pence however between the two, Mike Pence is less repulsive even though he is steeped in the waters of the religious right.

    I would have like to see Spike Cohen on the debate stage. The dynamics would have been awesome.

    1. She’s much like Biden in that respect, a chameleon.

    2. It’s not that I like Mike Pence however between the two, Mike Pence is less repulsive even though he is steeped in the waters of the religious right.

      Joe Biden, as VP, effectively persecuted far more men and women for having consentual sex than Mike Pence ever did or will. Kamala Harris, as AG, directly prosecuted far more men and women for indulging in various vices from drugs to sex to other than Pence ever did or will.

      The only way you could hold Pence’s religion against him relative to Biden and Harris is if you’re an anti-religion (as in anti-1A) fundamentalist.

    3. That’s not a finger, and it’s not the wind that’s blowing.

  12. Awesome how the shy Republicans here have huge issues with this but not with their dear leader. Very telling.

    1. Because they believe the legislative branch should legislate?

      1. Really? How many executive orders has Trump signed? Trump has rarely gone for the legislative route. For that matter Mitch McConnell seems reluctant to move legislation. So I think your comment is wrong, very wrong.

    2. Your comment tells more about you then any ‘shy’ GOP supporters.

    3. “Awesome how the shy Republicans here have huge issues with this but not with their dear leader. Very telling.”

      That didn’t translate well to English from whatever your native language is, but given your earlier posts, we can safely assume it to be stupid and a pile of lefty shit.

  13. There’s still time for Trump to de-schedule marijuana, and expunge all Federal convictions for non-violent marijuana-related crimes, and he can probably do it by executive order. If he does it before the election, it’ll be fun to watch the Democrats try to criticize it, now that their VP pick wants to do the same thing.

    1. The administration can de-schedule marijuana, but I don’t think they can do anything about the other statutory prohibitions on activities involving marijuana. The Controlled Substances Act, although nominally having pot in schedule 1, is full of separate provisions regarding it.

  14. Binion, these promises are outside of the scope of the VPOTUS, and if Biden abdicates the Oval Office, only possible via Executive Order. Why a libertarian magazine would promote increase Executive overreach as a positive is puzzling, the outcome notwithstanding.

  15. It has been noted that the executive branch can not change state laws or state convictions. However an Presidential administration open to changing marijuana laws (and hopefully other substance laws) could go a long way in promoting a change of laws in states. Kalama Harris’s statement at the debate makes a change and it has been rightly noted.

    1. “…Kalama Harris’s statement at the debate makes a change and it has been rightly noted.”

      Hey, we got a live one over here!

      1. “It was a debate!”

  16. “We will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana,” she lied.

  17. ‘”While attempting to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, the senator campaigned on legalizing cannabis, telling radio host Charlamagne tha God that the drug “brings a lot of people joy.”‘

    No matter who wins this election, I am going to need some drug that brings me joy. I guess the difference is that if Biden wins, I might need something a whole lot stronger than good weed.

  18. I promise jet-packs by 2030!

  19. Love it! Love her! Let’s go!

    1. ‘Nother live one!
      Get the contract going on the north anchorage of the bridge; we can clean out this idiot’s bank accounts.

  20. Harris is a Leftist destroyer in the vain of Obama. Her ultimate goal isn’t to correct previous wrongs but to gain more people to vote for Democrats. Have you ever wondered why Democrats champion criminals (especially the hardened ones) so much? Even why both groups are so damned infantile?

    It’s because they learn the tricks of their trade and even hire them to be part of their revolutionary armies. COVID-19 is a perfect reason to push to get more murderers, robbers, and rapists released early. As soon as they are released, they get picked up or contacted by recruiters of Leftist nonprofits offering them jobs for the next rioting or looting incident, including free travel, room, and board.

    Harris wouldn’t even go after the molesters at a local Jesuit college prep-school. As long as the criminals do all the dirty work, any and all people their (ahem) employees victimize are collateral damage. Heck Nancy Pelosi’s papa was mafia too and he taught her his dirty tricks. She’s originally from Baltimore, Maryland and her dad was a big shot in the Balto Democrat machine.

  21. I remember the DEA raids carried out by last administration in states where pot had been “legalized.” I wonder if Harris giggled when she found out about them.

    Tax mah pot, bro. Too bad when they tax it, they OWN it.

  22. Very little detail is available about the proposed reforms, but this would presumably mean selling marijuana will remain illegal, though users would avoid prosecution if caught with the drug—an important step in the right direction.

    No, a trivial one. How many users have a federal criminal record therefrom? I’d be surprised if there’s a single one alive now. And these candidates couldn’t do anything about state records. (Well, not that the VP can do much about anything, really.)

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  24. Not thoughtfully written:

    Saying usage should be legal (paragraph 5) is not contratictory to saying dealing should be illegal (paragraph 6). This is a policy nuance with which writers should be familiar.

    It is either ignorance to policy or just a political hit-piece; neither should be found in a serious publication.

  25. We should applaud a wanna-be tyrant when they promise to reduce tyranny in one area. (Obama allowed freer travel to Cuba, one of the few areas I agree with him on.)

  26. Decriminalization is a cop-out that spineless political hacks hide behind. It’s code for “Well throw them a bone while keeping the Drug War well funded.” The full legalization of cannabis is the only practical solution to the excesses of prohibition.

    Decriminalization is less than a half-step, it’s as if instead of legalizing homosexuality and taking its status as a mental illness off the books they simply made being gay a misdemeanor that’s tolerable as long as you don’t mention it, do it, or get caught walking past a school or playground.

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