Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday touted President Joe Biden’s decision to grant mass federal marijuana pardons, ending her months-long hiatus from publicly speaking on cannabis policy issues.
The vice president, who like Biden campaigned on marijuana reform but has generally avoided addressing the topic since taking office, briefly discussed the pardon proclamation during a Texas Democratic Party reception.
After highlighting the president’s appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Harris said “speaking of the system of justice, we are also changing—y’all might have heard that this week—the federal government’s approach to marijuana.”
.@VP Harris on simple possession of marijuana pardons: “Speaking of the system of justice, we are also changing […] the federal government’s approach to marijuana, because the bottom line there is nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed.” https://t.co/4XdaGZJ0M8 pic.twitter.com/xMYU9ydpcM
— The Hill (@thehill) October 9, 2022
“Because the bottom line there is: Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” she said.
Harris also acknowledged the president’s actions in a tweet on the day the proclamation was announced, saying it represented a “step forward in correcting the historic injustices of failed drug policies.”
This is a step forward in correcting the historical injustices of failed drug policies.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) October 6, 2022
The last time that the vice president publicly talked about marijuana policy was in April 2021, when she said that the administration was too busy dealing with “all-consuming” issues like vaccine distribution to take action on cannabis.
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.
It was reported in March 2021 that Harris had adopted Biden’s more scaled-back stance on marijuana reform. The president continues to oppose adult-use legalization, though he’s backed decriminalization and letting states set their own cannabis policies without federal interference.
In 2020, after accepting the vice presidential nomination, she said simply that “we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone.”
Even that position represents a significant evolution compared to how Harris talked about the issue during her time as a prosecutor.
In 2010, she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure. She also laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014.
That’s despite the fact that, by Harris’s own admission in 2019 that she personally smoked marijuana during her time in college. She said in an interview that cannabis “gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy in the world.”
In any case, while both Harris and Biden campaigned on the idea that people shouldn’t be incarcerated over cannabis, the presidential pardon proclamation that was issued last week only covers federal possession cases and people who’ve committed the low-level offense in Washington, D.C.
Biden did separately call on governors across the country to follow the administration’s lead by facilitating relief at the state level, where the vast majority of cannabis cases are prosecuted. Some governors have since said that they would be reviewing the action.
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Several Cabinet-level officials have celebrated Biden’s cannabis reform actions, including the heads of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Department of Labor.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) also said that they would move to quickly process the pardons and carry out the scheduling review, which could have significant implications for federal cannabis policy depending on the eventual recommendation.
A poll released on Friday found that a majority of Americans are in favor of Biden’s pardon proclamation, and most also want to see their own governors follow suit with state-level cannabis relief.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.