Kamala Harris Pledges That, If Elected, She and Joe Biden Would Decriminalize Marijuana Use
On Monday, Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris vowed that a Biden-Harris administration would “decriminalize” the use of marijuana.
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone,” Harris said during a Facebook Live virtual round-table.
“We need to deal with the system, and there needs to be significant change in the design of the system,” she continued.
The decriminalization of marijuana would be a boon for cannabis-rights activists who have long said that marijuana’s potential health risks “pale in comparison” to the harm that criminalization has done to communities of color in America.
We’ve known for a while that the U.S.’s drug policies disproportionately affect people of color. While the stats suggest that Americans across all demographics use marijuana at roughly the same rate, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested and charged for possession.
For example, in New York City in 2017, the NYPD arrested 17,000 people for marijuana-related offenses. 86% of those were Black or Latino.
Historically, politicians on both the left and the right haven’t done much to fix this disparity. Although both Republicans and Democrats were responsible for the largely ineffective “War On Drugs” policies of the ’90s that left a large number of people of color incarcerated, the Dems have recently changed their tune.
In the ’90s, there was an erroneous belief that marijuana was a “gateway” drug to harder, more destructive drugs, like crack-cocaine. Cracking down on marijuana possession was seen as a preventative tactic to keep people from trying crack.
The decriminalization of marijuana would be a marked change for Biden in particular who has held quite stringent anti-marijuana positions throughout his career.
“The school of thought was that we had to do everything we could to dissuade the use of crack cocaine,” Biden said in 2008 Senate hearing. “And so I am part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then.”
This falls in line with what Senator Harris’s policy stances have been of late. She recently spear-headed a bill called the MORE Act that, if passed according to Politico, would “remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and erase some cannabis criminal records”.
It’s worth noting that there is a marked distinction between the decriminalization of marijuana vs its legalization.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, decriminalization means “no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption”. In essence, a marijuana-related offense would be treated similarly to a traffic violation.
Legalization, on the other hand, would mean a federal policy that “supports a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers can buy marijuana for personal use from a safe legal source.”
Whether it’s decriminalization or legalization, one thing’s for sure: the data shows that hyper-punitive laws towards cannabis possession has done the American people more harm than good. Especially in communities of color.