California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is also a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, said on Wednesday that incarcerated cannabis dealers should be freed and deserve access to the burgeoning cannabis industry’s new economic opportunities.
Sen. Harris made the comments during an appearance at the She The People conference in Houston, Texas.
“[Many] of the people who historically were arrested for marijuana sales were young men, young men of color. Isn’t that the irony of it all? This is one of the fastest-growing money-making industries in our country and the very young men who were trying to make money doing the same thing got criminalized and now have been branded felons for life [and] are excluded from the economic opportunities that are now available because of this new industry.” — Sen. Kamala Harris (D), during her She The People appearance
“They were ahead of the curve,” she said, and they should be “first in line to get the jobs that are available.”
Sen. Harris also reiterated her stance regarding federal cannabis legalization, stating that she “strongly” believes that prohibition is a failed policy that should be abolished. “It has … contributed to the problem of mass incarceration in our country, and has led disproportionately to the criminalization of young black and brown men in this country,” she said.
The California senator also described drug prohibition broadly as a failure. “There is no question of the failure,” she said, reiterating previous arguments she has made that the Drug War has mistakenly turned what should have been a public health issue into a criminal justice issue.
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
Historically, however, Sen. Harris has not always been in favor of progressive cannabis reforms. She did not publicly endorse California’s successful cannabis legalization initiative, for example, and did not endorse any federal cannabis reforms until 2018.
According to Marijuana Moment, the now-senator at one point bragged that, during her tenure as California’s Attorney General, she “increased convictions of drug dealers from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.”
Sen. Harris also has a somewhat troubling habit of referring to the ongoing Drug War in the past tense — as if there weren’t still millions of drug-related felony convictions (including for cannabis) carried out each year in the U.S.
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