White House hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris has introduced a bill that seeks to decriminalize marijuana possession at a federal level and expunge past convictions.

Harris is the clear favourite to secure the 2020 Democratic nomination for President, ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. She was previously opposed to the liberalization of recreational cannabis laws, but she has now performed a 180-degree turn.

“Times have changed,” Harris said in a statement. “Marijuana should not be a crime. 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.”

Fellow Democrat Jerrold Nadler, a Congressman from New York, joined her today in launching the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Both Nadler and Harris sit on the judiciary panels in their respective chambers that would hold initial hearings on the proposed measure.

It aims to remove the possibility of jail time for marijuana possession in all 50 states, to wipe the slate clean for anyone with criminal convictions for cannabis use and to use 50% of the federal tax raised from the marijuana industry to help businesses thrive in areas disproportionately affected by “the war on drugs”.

There would be three grant schemes – two designed to provide job training services within communities adversely affected by marijuana prohibition, and the third providing financial assistance to small marijuana businesses run by “economically disadvantaged individuals”.

It would also prevent immigrants from being deported or denied citizenship for being found in possession of marijuana, and ban authorities from denying housing benefits and other social services on the basis of marijuana convictions.

In 2010, Harris voted against Proposition 19, which sought to legalize recreational marijuana in California. At the time she was the District Attorney of San Francisco and en route to becoming California’s first female Attorney General.

She said that two decades in courtrooms had convinced her that drug dealing harms communities and that recreational marijuana should not be legalized. She has changed her tune in the ensuing nine years, and she is also a co-sponsor of Sen. Cory Brooker’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2019. She has also admitted to smoking weed during her college days, citing her Jamaican heritage and the joy that cannabis use can bring people.

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