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Kamala Harris: Marijuana Hypocrite or New Legalization Champion?

California Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris has made a big deal about her desire to legalize marijuana use in order to fire a salvo in the war on drugs. She co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act, legislation last year that sought to essentially legalize pot at the federal level.

Harris has even made a big deal about her claims to have smoked weed in her college days. She said she listened to artists like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur while she toked in college, a claim that has led to some ridicule, since she graduated college in 1986, while the two rappers didn’t emerge until the early ’90s.

She talked about her pot smoking days in a radio show interview:

“Have you ever smoked?” Charlamagne asked.

“I have. And I inhaled,” Harris responded. Her inhale comment was a reference to former President Bill Clinton saying he experimented with marijuana but didn’t “inhale” it.

“It was a long time ago,” Harris continued. “I just broke loose.”

So Harris, the former pot smoker, has become a proponent of legalization. She was against legalizing weed when she ran for California’s Attorney General in 2010 and 2014, and California put over a thousand dealers in prison during her tenure.

The folks at the Free Beacon did a little digging:

The California Attorney General’s office does not provide organized, publicly available data on annual prosecutions. When contacted by the Free Beacon, it could only point to its OpenJustice data portal, which reports only limited data sets. However, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does provide data on the total number of admissions to state prisons annually, in its “Offender Data Points” series and the now-discontinued “Characteristics of New Admissions” series.

These reports provide information on new admissions (as opposed to parole violators) to the California state prison system, including by offense type. Based on these reports, at least 1,560 people were sent to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses between 2011 and 2016.

And that may not be all, because California sent plenty of prisoners to county facilities to serve their sentences.

County-level populations ticked up following realignment, but no data source breaks those figures down by offense. As such it is not clear how many additional marijuana offenders were prosecuted under Harris and then diverted to county jails. As a result, 1,560 is the lower bound of individuals sent to prison by Harris for marijuana from 2011 to 2016.

So, do these revelations make Harris a hypocrite when it comes to marijuana, or is she late to the party when it comes to legalization? Either way, her competition for the Democratic presidential nomination has some ammo against her when it comes to her desire to make weed legal. It’ll be interesting to see if these figures arise as the campaign season heats up.


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