Vice President Kamala Harris was accused of hypocrisy after she decried Brittney Griner’s conviction by Russia on cannabis smuggling charges — despite Harris prosecuting thousands of similar marijuana possession cases in her earlier career as a prosecutor.
Griner, 31, was sentenced on Thursday to nine years in prison after she admitted to bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil into the country. The WNBA star said she had been prescribed the oil to help relieve pain related to her chronic injuries and had accidentally packed them in her luggage.
The verdict was met with universal condemnation from US diplomats and government officials, led by President Biden, who called the sentence “unacceptable” and demanded that Russia release both Griner and a second jailed American, Paul Whelan, “immediately.”
Harris released a separate statement on Twitter condemning Griner’s conviction.
“With today’s sentencing, Russia continues its wrongful detention of Brittney Griner. She should be released immediately,” Harris wrote. “@POTUS and I, and our entire Administration, are working every day to reunite Brittney, as well as Paul Whelan, with loved ones who miss each of them dearly.”
But Harris’ many critics were quick to point out that while serving as both San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, she oversaw thousands of marijuana-related prosecutions and was an outspoken critic of pot legalization, as the Daily Mail first reported.
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“Brittney Griner got 9 years for drug possession in Russia… which sounds like most of the criminal sentences Kamala Harris got people for the same thing when she was attorney general of California,” author Tim Young tweeted.
Another commenter wrote: “LMAO, didn’t U lock up a s—load of people for weed? Then bragged about it, and went on to say you smoked weed in college listening to Tupac and snoop before they cut their first albums?”
A third fumed in the same vein: “You locked up people for possession of marijuana. And you’re only condemning this because the US cannot profit from her incarceration in Russia.”
With today’s sentencing, Russia continues its wrongful detention of Brittney Griner. She should be released immediately. @POTUS and I, and our entire Administration, are working every day to reunite Brittney, as well as Paul Whelan, with loved ones who miss each of them dearly.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) August 4, 2022
The San Jose Mercury News reported in 2019 that during Harris’ tenure as San Francisco’s top prosecutor between 2004-2010, her office handled more than 1,900 marijuana convictions — although it has been pointed out that most of those arrested for low-level possession were spared prison time, and only a few dozen were incarcerated.
Harris was elected the Golden State’s attorney general in 2011 and had a further 1,970 people locked up for marijuana offenses on her watch, according to an investigation by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication.
Harris also vocally opposed California’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative, which ultimately passed in 2016.
She only threw her support behind legalization around 2018, even endorsing a bill which would have removed cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, reported Forbes. She also wrote a book in which she argued for the decriminalization of cannabis.
By the time Harris radically changed her stance on marijuana, there was already talk of her running for president.
Harris famously sparred with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard during a Democratic presidential debate in 2019 after Gabbard brought up her record of throwing people in prison for marijuana possession.
“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,” Gabbard said, referring to Harris’ interview with the radio show “The Breakfast Club.”
In that sitdown, the White House contender — and former prosecutor — admitted with a laugh that she had smoked marijuana in college, saying: “I have. And I inhaled — I did inhale. It was a long time ago. But, yes.”