No one should go to jail for ‘smoking weed,’ VP Harris says at White House

WASHINGTON – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday said “nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” as she met to discuss the topic with rapper Fat Joe and others pardoned for marijuana convictions. 

Harris added that “far too many people have been sent to jail for simple marijuana possession.”

President Joe Biden, seeking a second four-year term in November’s election,has sought to appeal to young voters, some of whom are dissatisfied with his sluggish policy reforms.

Harris called on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to hasten a reclassifying of marijuana as less harmful than drugs like heroin. 

“Marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl, which is absurd, not to mention patently unfair,” Harris said.

The Department of Health and Human Services last year recommended that cannabis be reclassified from its current treatment as a “Schedule I” to a Schedule III drug with a moderate potential for causing addiction.

The decision now rests with the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

Nearly 40 U.S. states have legalized marijuana use in some form, but it remains completely illegal in some states and at the federal level. 

Harris convened a roundtable discussion Friday with Fat Joe, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, White House Director of Public Engagement Steve Benjamin and others. 

The U.S. jails more people than any other country. One in five of those 1.9 million people are behind bars for a drug-related offense.

Black and Latino people are disproportionately incarcerated, while drug law reform has the broadest support among young voters. Each constituency favors Democrats.

Biden, who has sometimes disappointed activists with conservative views about narcotics use, has nonetheless proposed easing the treatment of marijuana under federal law and has pardoned thousands of convictions for mere possession of the psychoactive plant.

He mentioned both positions during his State of the Union speech last week, marking the first time a president used the congressional address to tout easing marijuana policy.

Some activists favor full legalization of the drug, and they have faulted the administration for dismissing some employees for past drug use.

Biden said racial equity would be one of his administration’s top priorities. He was elected in the aftermath of widespread street protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd, who was Black, by a Minneapolis police officer.

The president has pursued executive actions including banning most choke-holds and restricting no-knock warrants for federal law enforcement but more sweeping reforms have been sidelined or stalled in Congress, disappointing liberal voters. —Reuters

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