Marijuana Policy Project
Curved Papers

Kamala Harris Fails and Bails After Tumultuous Presidential Bid

Kamala Harris on the campaign trail (image via Flickr)

When a presdential candidate says her favorite musician is Bob Marley, I listen.

When a presidential candidate, who's father is Jamaican, says she didn't oppose marijuana legalization in Califiornia and defends herself with the statement, "Half my family’s from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?” I pay attention.

Yes, Kamala Harris is half Jamaican and half Indian, was born in Oakland, and became San Francisico's first black district attorney, California's first black attorney general and the second black women to ever be elected to the Senate.

But it was her tenure as Attorney General of California from 2011-2016 that ultimately drove a stake through Harris' campaign to become the 46th president of the United States. Harris ended her campaign today.

In an email to her supporters, she explained: "My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue... although I am no longer running for President, I will do everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump and fight for the future of our country."

According to marijuana advocates, the senator never lifted a finger for cannabis reform  during her time as the state's top law enforcement administrator. She would disagree, but the facts were against her. 

In February, the Washington Free Beacon accused Harris of filling "Califiornia prisons with pot peddlers." The subhead of that article read: “At least 1,560 people were sent to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses between 2011 and 2016.”

After some research, Doug McVay and I determined that figure was actually 1,876 arrests. These were the total number of people admitted to prison for felony marijuana offenses during Harris’ two terms as California’s attorney general.

If Harris couldn't earn the support of Califiornia liberals, what hope did her presidential campaign have?

At the Democrats' debate on July 31, fellow candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard used this information to criticize Harris. Some think Harris never recovered from Gabbard's attack.

We tried to defend Harris. The fact is that prison admissions for marijuana felonies in California declined significantly under her watch, from 817 in 2011 to 137 in 2016.

But that fell on deaf ears. On Facebook, McVay and I found ourselves at the wrong end of a stubborn belief that Harris couldn't change, even if since she entered the Senate in 2016 Harris has consistently supported legalization measures. The hate and venom directed at her was too strong.

If Harris couldn't earn the support of Califiornia liberals, what hope did her presidential campaign have?

The November 29 New York Times article that exposed dysfunction in her campaign pointed to an inabilty "to embrace or downplay her record as a prosecutor, which some on the left have criticized, a dilemma the campaign has never resolved."

The article noted that "several aides familiar with the process said she was knocked off kilter by criticism from progressives and spent months torn between embracing her prosecutor record and acknowledging some faults."

So now a campaign that started with so much promise has gone off the rails. Harris might not be the big loser, though: she may be considered as a VP candidate and could very well succeed William Barr as U.S. Attorney General if her party takes back the White House in 2020.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.