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Kamala Harris: ‘Nobody Should Have to Go to Jail for Smoking Weed’

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday urged both Congress and state governments to follow the Biden administration’s lead and decriminalize marijuana.

Harris’ comments, made during an interview on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” came less than a week after President Joe Biden issued pardons to individuals who have previously been convicted of a cannabis-related offense under federal law.

“Let me just start with saying this. I strongly believe, and the majority of Americans agree, nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed, right?” Harris said, as quoted by Yahoo. “We’re urging governors and states to take our lead and to pardon people who have been criminalized for possession of marijuana. But ultimately, like so many other issues, Congress must act to ensure a consistent approach. But Congress needs to act.”

Biden, who was convicted in federal court of simple marijuana possession for the offense of marijuana possession, announced on Thursday that he would pardon all those who have been convicted. This will benefit thousands.

In the announcement, Biden made the same points that his vice president deployed in her late night interview, urging “all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.”

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. The issuance of criminal records in relation to marijuana possession has also created unnecessary barriers for employment, housing and education opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

Beyond the mass pardons, Biden’s announcement also marked the start of what could be a historic shift in U.S. drug policy, saying that he had directed “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said.

Nineteen states have made recreational cannabis legal for adults. Voters in five other states are set to vote on their own legalization proposals in next month’s election.

Even though Congress is under Democratic control it has not approved its own cannabis reform bill.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (MORE Act) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in April. This bill would have cannabis removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

The Senate Democrats stated that they were planning to create their own legalization legislation, but it was stalled during the summer months.

Harris stated support for legalization of marijuana as a 2020 presidential candidate. However, her record in California as a prosecutor has made it difficult to reform the drug industry.

During her time as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004-2010, Harris “oversaw more than 1,900 marijuana convictions,” according to the Mercury News, which noted that her “prosecutors appear to have convicted people on marijuana charges at a higher rate than under her predecessor, based on data about marijuana arrests in the city.”

“Over Harris’ seven years as top prosecutor, her attorneys won 1,956 misdemeanor and felony convictions for marijuana possession, cultivation, or sale, according to data from the DA’s office,” the Mercury News reported. “That includes people who were convicted of marijuana offenses and more serious crimes at the same time.”