Another week, another presidential hopeful has entered the race for the 2020 election. Earlier today, California Senator Kamala Harris announced her bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Senator Harris says she is running to fight for the American people, especially those who have been overlooked or ignored by federal lawmakers who are easily swayed by self-interest.
"My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe, it is probably one of the things that has motivated me more than anything else," Harris said on ABC’s Good Morning America. "When I look at this moment in time, I know that the American people need someone who is going to fight for them, who is going to see them, who will hear them, who is going to care about them, who will be concerned about their experience, who is going to put them in front of self-interest."
And that fight includes victims of the War on Drugs, which has incarcerated millions of Americans and wasted billions of tax dollars without putting a dent in the traffic or consumption of illicit substances in America. For Harris, ending the drug war begins by legalizing cannabis at the federal level.
"Something else it's past time we got done is dismantling the failed war on drugs—starting with legalizing marijuana," Harris wrote in her 2019 book 'The Truths We Hold: An American Dream.' "Between 2001 and 2010, more than seven million people were arrested for simple possession of marijuana. They are disproportionately black and brown....These racial disparities are staggering and unconscionable. We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it. And we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives."
Harris added that she doesn't simply want to repeal federal prohibition and let each state sort out its own cannabis laws: she wants to address the "unfinished business when it comes to legalization." That means developing a cannabis breathalyzer to keep the roads safe and cutting through the red tape so that researchers can study the full health benefits and potential risks of consuming marijuana.
Senator Harris' book also hinted at the possibility of decriminalizing other commonly abused substances.
"We also need to stop treating drug addiction like a public safety crisis instead of what it is: a public health crisis," she wrote. "It's time to accept that addiction is a disease, that it wreaks havoc on people's lives in ways they don't want and never intended. It's time we recognize that addiction does not discriminate, and that our laws shouldn't either. When someone is suffering from addiction, their situation is made worse, not better, by involvement in the criminal justice system. What they need is treatment, and we should fight for a system that provides it."
So Harris wouldn't legalize heroin, cocaine or other addictive substances, but she would reform America's drug laws so that people struggling with addiction receive medical help as opposed to prison sentences.
Turning a new leaf
Although Senator Harris is now an outspoken supporter of cannabis legalization, she didn't always support marijuana reform. While campaigning to become attorney general of California in 2014, Harris laughed at her opponent's pledge to legalize recreational cannabis use. And when California prepared to vote for the 2016 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use, Harris withheld her support for the initiative.
But something changed in the following two years. Last May, Senator Harris announced a new stance on cannabis by supporting the Marijuana Justice Act - a cannabis legalization bill introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
"I am proud to formally announce that I'm signing onto the Marijuana Justice Act," she said in a Now This video. "It's the smart thing to do, it's the right thing to do. And I know this as a former prosecutor."
So although Harris is a recent convert to cannabis legalization, she's made up for lost time by becoming one of the most outspoken supporters of marijuana reform.