On Wednesday evening amidst fears that Vice President Mike Pence could be carrying the coronavirus due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the White House, he and Sen. Kamala Harris debated behind two panes of plexiglass in this year’s Vice Presidential debate. And while his eye may have been a bit red and flies may have been hovering all around him, the two of them did manage to fit in a conversation about marijuana legalization in the United States.
When discussing criminal justice reform during the debate, the senator from California and Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful told America, “We will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.” It’s a claim that many news outlets rated as “true” when fact-checking the debate.
Harris has evolved on the cannabis question over the years. She didn’t back California’s 2010 initiative to legalize cannabis, nor did she support Proposition 64 in 2016, although attorney general at the time she did not take public positions on ballot measures.
She is the lead sponsor of the MORE Act in the Senate, a bill designed to legalize cannabis at the federal level.
“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” Harris said when she first introduced the MORE Act. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence used his time on the debate stage to go after Harris and her time as Attorney General in California.
“When you were when you were [district attorney] in San Francisco, when you left office, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics,” he said on the debate stage. “When you were attorney general of California, you increased report the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in California. You did nothing on criminal justice reform in California.”
Harris, however, noted the rich irony of Pence’s statements. She reminded the Vice President of his administration's many transgressions, including, just last week, the president’s inability to denounce white supremacy.
Pence has never supported cannabis reform in this country. Over his years in Congress, he voted against amendments that would protect state-level legalization programs. And, as Marijuana Moment noted, like all of the Republican party, he dismissed Democrat efforts to add cannabis banking provisions to a coronavirus relief package.
“In the House of Representatives, I heard the other day that the bill that they passed actually mentions marijuana more than it mentions jobs,” he said, according to Marijuana Moment. “The American people don’t want some pork barrel bill coming out of the Congress when we’ve got real needs from working families.”