On Thursday, President Joe Biden issued an executive order pardoning all people with federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana. In a statement, Biden said, "Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives ... Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates."
Biden's pardons may prove politically problematic for Vice President Kamala Harris as attention might now turn to the fact that the 1,956 people she convicted for marijuana crimes will not be pardoned since their convictions were not made at the federal level.
Harris' chronic war on pot
After working as a prosecutor in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, Harris worked as deputy district attorney from 1990 until 1998, at which point she went on to work in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.
From 2004 to 2010, Harris served as San Francisco's 32nd attorney general. During her time as D.A., the 57-year-old secured 1,956 misdemeanor and felony convictions for marijuana possession, cultivation, or sale.
Whereas 18% of marijuana arrests resulted in convictions under her predecessor, former District Attorney Terence Hallinan, 24% of such arrests resulted in convictions under Harris. In addition to all of those who were sent to county jails, Harris sent 45 convicts to state prisons.
In the first three weeks after she took over Hallinan's position, D.A. reviews of drug arrest cases spiked 25%.
In 2006, she reportedly claimed, "The approach of my administration vs. the prior administration is I don't think drug crime is a victimless crime."
According to Mercury News, Harris' prosecutors "convicted people on marijuana charges at a higher rate than under her predecessor," although former lawyers and defense attorneys contended that most defendants arrested for low-level pot offenses were rarely locked up.
In 2010, she voted against Proposition 19, a measure to legalize recreational marijuana.
In an August 2014 interview, when asked by KCRA-TV about a political opponent's support for legalizing weed, she laughed off the notion and said, "He is entitled to his opinion."
Harris' hardline stance goes up in smoke
A year after laughing down the prospect of legalization, Harris reportedly said at the 2015 Democratic State Convention in Anaheim, "Standing up for the people also means challenging the policy of mass incarceration by recognizing the war on drugs was a failure."
In May 2018, Harris announced her support for legalizing marijuana, claiming that "[t]oo many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies."
Former San Francisco supervisor and assemblyman Tom Ammiano criticized Harris for having pivoted at a late, albeit opportune, time. Ammiano said that when it came to pushing for legalization, "She was nowhere, zilch, nada, no help ... It does leave a bad taste in your mouth about how sincere or how authentic she is."
During the second Democrat presidential primary debate in 2019, then-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) stated, Harris "put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."
Gabbard said to Harris, "When you were in a position to make a difference and impact in these people's lives, you did not."
In February 2019, when Harris sought the presidency, she appeared on the New York City-based radio show "The Breakfast Club," and noted that she had "inhaled" from a marijuana joint "a long time ago."
Harris claimed, "it gives a lot of people a lot of joy. And we need more joy in the world."
According to a 2019 Reason report, there was always a disconnect between Harris' opportunistic rhetoric and her actions: "In the public eye, she spoke of racial justice and liberal values ... But behind closed doors, she repeatedly fought for more aggressive prosecution not just of violent criminals but of people who committed misdemeanors and 'quality of life' crimes."
Harris did not work simply to put low-level drug offenders behind bars. She also sought to keep innocent men in prison.
Daniel Larsen served 13 years of a 27-years-to-life prison sentence for a crime a judge determined he did not commit.
After a court found that Larsen was "actually innocent," he had his conviction overturned in 2009. Larsen remained in jail for another year, and when the state was ordered either to retry him or to release him, Kamala Harris challenged the release, saying that Larsen had not produced evidence of his innocence quickly enough.
Harris also unlawfully withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in the case of George Gage, an electrician with no prior criminal record who was accused of sexual misconduct by his stepdaughter and charged in 1999. The New York Times reported that Harris obfuscated medical reports that indicated the accuser had been untruthful with investigators and was regarded, even by her mother, as a "pathological liar" who "lives by lies."
Harris' prosecutors defended the conviction when the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2015, and blamed Gage, who was forced to act as his own lawyer, for not having raised the matter in the lower court.
Gage remains behind bars to this day, serving a 70-year sentence.