In a surprising U-Turn, US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about President Biden’s recent announcement that he’s pardoning federal convictions for possession of marijuana, during an appearance on late night talk show Late Night with Seth Meyers on Monday.
"We're urging governors and states to take our lead and to pardon people who have been criminalized for possession of marijuana. And ultimately, though, as with so many issues, if Congress acts, then there is a uniform approach," Harris told Meyers.
It's surprising, because nearly a decade ago, Harris had derided the prospect of legalizing marijuana in California, even as her Republican opponent embraced reform in the race for attorney general.
Harris famously laughed when a reporter asked about her opponent's support of cannabis legalization, saying that he was “entitled to his opinion.” She also declined to support California’s legalization ballot measure which voters ultimately approved in 2016.
But Harris, once a tough prosecutor who built a reputation sending young men -- mostly blacks and latinos -- to jail for long prison sentences for marijuana usage, has rallied behind the Biden administration’s decision last week to pardon all federal convictions of simple marijuana possession, a surprise announcement delivered in the countdown to the midterm election.
The reason? Simply put, Harris' original position was out of sync with the Democratic Party. Poll after poll has shown that Democratic voters overwhelmingly favour decriminalising marijuana usage, and that even a substantial number of Republican voters are in favour of the same.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Democrats hammered California’s former top cop for her record of cannabis prosecutions.
On a debate stage in Detroit, Tulsi Gabbard, then a Hawaii representative and rival for the Democratic nomination, said Harris had the power to enact change but didn’t.
“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said, telling Harris that those who “suffered under [her] reign” deserved an apology.
“The bottom line is when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not.”
Her general silence on marijuana reform has been a source of frustration for advocates who’d hoped that having Harris in the White House would help expedite reform given her background as a senator who sponsored a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill and repeatedly called for systemic policy changes during he own presidential campaign before joining Biden’s presidential ticket.
Still, despite a past record that seems unfavorable towards cannabis, many cannabis advocates are now championing Harris for her current efforts to push forward cannabis legalization and expunge the records of those who were arrested for cannabis crimes in the past.
And that comes as no surprise, given that with US inflation at historic highs and US President Joe Biden's popularity at record lows (rivalling that of Trump's), Democrats look set to receive a through drubbing in the upcoming mid-term elections, with Republicans looking poised to regain control of both the House and the Senate, thereby bringing Biden's ambitious reform agenda to a terminal conclusion.
Thus, the Democratic party will be looking for any advantage they can get going into the elections, and Harris' U-Turn is part and parcel of their attempts to woo voters angry at price rises. However, it may very well prove to be a case of 'too little, too late.'