by Kyle Devitt Lee
California has always led the country on cannabis. So, what does it mean that we have one of our own occupying the number two seat in the new administration? Will we be able to harness California’s youthful, go-getter vibe to force a long-overdue shift on cannabis policy? We had an opportunity to sit down with a staffer for Vice President Harris and ask about her position on cannabis.
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But first, some background: Harris’s record on cannabis has evolved over the years. In 2010 while still a prosecutor, she was a staunch opponent of the herb, going so far as to co-author the official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure.
Fortunately, the weed has seemingly won her over. More recently, she has referred to the current federal cannabis laws as “regressive” and ruinous. Putting words to action, as a presidential candidate she made cannabis policy reform an integral part of her criminal justice platform. And as one of her last acts as a U.S. Senator, she sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act – a milestone piece of legislation that was passed by the House and which affirmed the importance of decriminalizing cannabis and overturning the mass incarceration of non-violent cannabis drug offenders.
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How likely is Harris to push drug policy towards greener pastures in her new role? The staff person we spoke with said, she’s “open to” change but the wholesale legalization of marijuana at the federal level is “not exactly doing God’s work.”
We took that to mean that legalization is not the number one priority for the Biden-Harris administration. It’s not necessarily seen as an urgent, righteous cause. And we get it: Our nation is shell-shocked. We’re in the midst of economic and public health catastrophes. Our democracy is reeling from the Capitol breach of January 6th and its lingering dissonance. Addressing these things carries an indisputable urgency for all Americans.
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Our own opinion though is that cannabis reform shouldn’t be thought of as a “we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-get-to-it” sort of initiative. Cannabis reform is – or at least it can be – a vital part of our country’s economic recovery program. It has the potential to restore jobs and livelihood, fund important social programs, remedy long-standing social injustices, and help heal the pandemic-ravaged economy.
Fortunately, a growing number of policymakers are being won over to that position. In his victorious race to turn the Deep South state of Georgia blue and flip the Senate to Democratic control, Senator Ossoff said he will aggressively push for national legalization and that “it’s past time to end this war on drugs.”
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Happily, the Biden-Harris administration is placing a strong emphasis on science-based policy (recently elevating the job of presidential science advisor to a cabinet-level position). If the new administration is really intent on cultivating a science-based approach to governing, then drug policy reform is inevitable.