The beginning of October 2020 saw the first and only Vice Presidential debate between the two candidates for Vice President of the United States: Vice President Mike Pence, and California Senator Kamala Harris. The debate saw a slew of disagreement over many issues. One of those issues was marijuana legalization and overall drug enforcement policy. Indeed, cannabis policy showcased one of the sharper divisions between the two candidates.
Senator Harris' Views on Cannabis Policy
Despite her former role as Attorney General of the State of California, Senator Harris expressed a far more liberal perspective when it came to the legalization of marijuana.
During the Vice Presidential debate, Senator Harris vowed that a Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, thus dramatically changing the nature of drug enforcement at the federal level. Senator Harris also said that the Biden-Harris administration would work to expunge the criminal record of certain individuals who were convicted of drug-related offenses. This, in turn, resulted in an increase of stock prices for marijuana-related businesses. However, it is important to note that what Harris discussed at the debate would still be short of what she supported in the United States Senate.
In the Senate, Senator Harris sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level. This is a vitally important piece of legislation, as individuals who use marijuana can still be prosecuted at a federal level - even if the state that they purchase and use marijuana in has legalized the drug. Furthermore, companies cannot use banking or interstate commerce for marijuana-related businesses until it is legalized federally, nor can they obtain insurance for their efforts.
Senator Harris' position is arguably more liberal than Vice President Joe Biden's. The former Vice President has not committed to full legalization, instead opting to support an effort to decriminalize the drug. Harris has largely stuck to Vice President Biden's position since her selection as her running mate.
Vice President Mike Pence on Cannabis Policy
Vice President Pence took the chance to question Senator Harris for her perceived hypocrisy, noting that she'd prosecuted people - including many minorities - for drug offenses. He also challenged her for not pushing the issue of criminal justice as a whole.
Generally speaking, the Vice President shied away from laying out the Trump administration's position at the debate. From a political perspective, this makes sense for three related reasons.
First, the Trump administration has been against further expansion of marijuana liberalization. The appointment of the President's first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was seen by many as a shot at the marijuana legalization movement, as Sessions was a noted opponent of liberalizing marijuana and pledged to "crack down" on continued legalization. He was largely unsuccessful in doing so, and the Trump administration has since largely moved on from these efforts.
Second, the position of the Trump administration - opposing legalization - is politically unpopular, with recent polls showing that 67% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. It is unlikely that the Vice President would want to highlight an unpopular position in front of a national audience.
Third, the Trump campaign has largely run on themes of "law and order," pledging to support law enforcement and crack down on crime across the board. A message that supported legalization, decriminalization, and expungement would unquestionably conflict with that campaign theme.
For all of these reasons, it makes perfect sense that the Vice President would avoid answering the question about the Trump administration's marijuana plans.