Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential election, announced U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice president pick yesterday.
The move rallied political voices on social media (both positive and negative) and generally brought the spotlight back onto the Democratic ticket for a moment, a rare opportunity in the midst of both a global pandemic and a vocal incumbent campaign. And while cannabis hasn’t played much of a role in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, it remains an underlying open question: Will the U.S. legalize cannabis sometime during the next four years?
The question was posed during the Democratic debates, by which point Harris had established herself as a new voice on Capitol Hill in favor of legalization and reform.
Most notably, Harris cosponsored the Marijuana Justice Act in 2018 (and again, in a new version of the bill, in 2019) and sponsored the MORE Act in 2019. Both of those bills seek federal legalization with a specific social justice bent. The U.S. House, according to industry chatter, is planning a vote on the MORE Act next month.
“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” Harris said when the MORE Act was introduced in the U.S Senate and House. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone—especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs—has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”
In her time as California attorney general, however, she wasn’t articulating such a clear-eyed vision of a just and equitable cannabis industry. She took a “top cop” stance on law enforcement (her words) and prosecuted nearly 2,000 cannabis cases during her time in the AG’s office. Cannabis is illegal, her record would argue, and so her work was to go after men and women possessing and selling it.
“Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill,” she said in 2011, discussing her opposition to Prop. 19, an earlier version of a California adult-use legalization proposal. “We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana.”
Biden, for his part, has resisted a legalization stance for apparent public health reasons. And just a few weeks ago, Democratic National Committee delegates voted 105-60 against placing cannabis legalization on the party’s platform this year. Harris offers a more willing perspective on the plant, but her voice is far from a game-changer on the Democratic ticket.