Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), whom Joe Biden (D) announced as his running mate, has a controversial prosecutorial record that will likely emerge to the forefront as it did during the Democrat primary race, particularly in terms of criminal justice reform and her record of jailing nearly 2,000 people for marijuana-related offenses.
Biden formally announced the California senator as his running mate on Tuesday after weeks of speculation. The choice is significant, given the former vice president’s heated moments with Harris, particularly over race-related issues, during the Democrat primary debates.
Harris said during last year’s July debate:
When Vice President Biden was in the United States Senate working with segregationists to oppose busing, which was the vehicle by which we would integrate America’s public schools, had I been in the United States Senate at that time I would have been on the other side of the aisle.
Racial issues, as well as policing and criminal justice reform, have been thrust to the forefront ahead of the election, and Biden likely hopes Harris will assist his campaign by bringing more minority voters into the fold. However, Harris has a controversial history in regards to criminal justice reform.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), whom many credit with effectively damaging Harris’s presidential campaign, voiced concerns over the senator’s prosecutorial record during last year’s July debate.
“Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor, and that she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record,” Gabbard said:
— America Rising (@AmericaRising) August 1, 2019
“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” she continued, referencing Harris’s appearance on the Breakfast Club, where she laughed about smoking a joint in her youth.
“I did inhale,” Harris told co-host Charlamagne tha God, laughing. “It was a long time ago, but yes. I just broke news!”
“Listen, I think [it] gives a lot of people joy,” the former California attorney general added, bursting out in laughter. “And we need more joy”:
Gabbard, at the time, added that Harris:
…blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so” and “kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California and she fought to keep the cash-bail system in place.
Harris has since shifted positions, attempting to position herself as a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, despite her longstanding position against marijuana legalization and subsequent jailing of nearly 2,000 people for marijuana-related offenses.
In September 2019, Harris released her own sweeping criminal justice reform plan, which, remarkably, promised to facilitate loans to “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” in the marijuana industry and called for the end of mass incarceration.
“So it is past time to end the failed war on drugs, and it begins with legalizing marijuana,” her plan stated, representing a monumental shift from her record as a prosecutor. “Marijuana arrests account for over 50 percent of all drug arrests.”
Notably, Biden’s official “Plan for Black America” includes decriminalizing “the use of cannabis” and “automatically” expunging “all prior cannabis use convictions.” It also calls to “end all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment.”