Kamala Harris Blames Weed Arrests for Mass Incarceration

1,974 people were put in prison for weed on Harris's watch

November 22, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris lamented the mass incarceration of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses Thursday. The former California attorney general did not acknowledge that on her watch, 1,974 people were incarcerated for the same infraction.

"I mean, you want to talk about 'gateway,' that approach is the gateway to America's problem of mass incarceration..." Harris told Stephen Colbert on Thursday. "So not only do I intend to legalize marijuana, but I will also tell you, Stephen, that part of the big issue is we've got whole populations of, in particular, black and brown men and women who have been incarcerated, who have been designated felons for life, who now should be coming out, we should be releasing them, we should be expunging their records."

Harris neglected to mention her own role in incarcerating those black and brown men and women. A Washington Free Beacon investigation first reported that Harris, as attorney general of California, sent at least 1,560 people to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses between 2011 and 2016.

Presidential rival Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) brought further attention to Harris's record during a July presidential debate, noting that she "put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana." Harris called that claim a "lie," but a fact check by the San Francisco Chronicle found that the initial Free Beacon report actually understated the number of jail sentences and "1,974 people were admitted for hashish and marijuana convictions during that period."

On the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Harris was asked about fellow candidate Joe Biden's statement at the Wednesday debate that he opposes marijuana legalization. "You didn't always support legalization. What changed for you? Did your adviser Mary Jane help at all?" Colbert joked.

"You remember that Rick James song, Mary Jane?" Harris joked in response.

Harris largely dodged the question about why she changed her mind, but responded, "We've got to not just decriminalize, we need to legalize marijuana. The whole War on Drugs was a complete failure, and we have criminalized whole populations of people."