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Harris says it’s absurd and unfair that marijuana is treated more seriously than fentanyl under federal law

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that it is “absurd” and “patently unfair” that marijuana is treated the same as heroin and other Schedule I drugs – and more seriously than fentanyl – under federal law.

“Marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl, which is absurd, not to mention patently unfair,” Harris said during a roundtable on the administration’s plans for cannabis reform. “I’m sure DEA is working as quickly as possible and will continue to do so and we look forward to the product of their work.”

The comments came at the roundtable at the White House as the Biden administration hopes that promoting changes long sought by criminal justice advocates will help build enthusiasm among Black voters, younger voters and a wider array of core Democratic constituencies.

Harris has been traveling the country to rouse the Democratic base about the prospect of voting for her and President Joe Biden a second time, including making appeals to younger voters.

The administration began the process of reconsidering how marijuana is treated under federal law just before the midterms in 2022. Biden pardoned all prior federal offenses for simple marijuana possession and encouraged all governors to pardon state offenses. The same year, Biden asked US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the attorney general to begin the administrative process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

The vice president met with musician Fat Joe and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear - and alluded to her own role in what she described as an unequal criminal justice system.

“I believe that the promise of America includes equal justice under the law. And for too many, our criminal justice system has failed to live up to that core principle,” said Harris, who started her political career as a prosecutor in California.

“And I say that with full knowledge of how this system has worked, including my experience as a prosecutor,” she added.

The group attending the roundtable included people who have received pardons for marijuana-related convictions.

Biden mentioned cannabis reform in his State of the Union address last week.

“No one should be jailed for simply using or have it on their record,” Biden said in his address last week.

Harris repeated similar sentiments on Friday: “I believe – I think we all at this table believe – nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” she said.

“And what we need to do is recognize that far too many people have been sent to jail for simple marijuana possession,” Harris added while acknowledging how the enforcement of cannabis-related laws have disproportionately impacted people of color.

Harris’ own feelings on marijuana reform have evolved in line with her career.

In a 2019 interview with “The Breakfast Club,” Harris admitted to using cannabis in college: “And I inhaled – I did inhale,” Harris told co-host Charlamagne Tha God in a reference to former President Bill Clinton’s infamous “didn’t inhale” response to a similar question while he was campaigning in 1992.

But as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011, Harris oversaw scores of marijuana convictions and she opposed a failed 2010 effort that would have legalized marijuana in California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

She called for an end to the federal government’s ban on medical cannabis in 2015, stopping short of complete legalization.

In her 2019 book, Harris wrote that marijuana should be legalized.

CNN’s Holmes Lybrand and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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