Kamala Harris Vs. Rudy Giuliani: Who Was Worse On Marijuana?

In partnership with The Fresh Toast

Since Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his presidential running mate, opposition that includes notable Trump advisors have attacked her complicated cannabis history. Few have denounced her marijuana record more repeatedly or more vociferously than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

This is curious. Describing Giuliani as cannabis friendly is like calling great white sharks cute and cuddly. Still Giuliani has eagerly accepted the attack dog role on cannabis against Harris. He is determined to make this a thing.

But who was a harsher Drug War advocate and who caused more damage pursuing cannabis arrests: Rudy Giuliani or Kamala Harris? We ran a number crunch to find out.

Rudy Giuliani

According to Giuliani, he and his “get-tough” policies saved New York City from itself. He “brought down crime more than anyone in this country — maybe in the history of this country — while I was mayor of NYC,” the former mayor proclaimed at the 2007 GOP presidential debates in Orlando.

City crime rates did decline substantially during the 1990s when Giuliani was mayor. Violent crimes dropped by more than 56% in New York and property crime fell by 65% as well, the National Bureau for Economic Research reports. Nationally, violent crime only lowered 28% and property crime by 26% in the same timeframe.

Giuliani ascribes his success to “broken windows” policing, which believes that by aggressively pursuing low-level disorder and misdemeanors, it will limit the number of larger infraction and crimes possible. “Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other,” Giuliani said at 1998 press conference.

RELATED: Minorities Accounted For 90% Of New York Marijuana Arrests

Later research has drastically questioned what role “broken windows” policing played in lowering crime in New York, if at all. Instead, what we know is that Giuliani’s policies led to dramatic increases for marijuana arrests, which disproportionally affected Black residents. A 2007 paper co-authored by Bernard E. Harcourt, a political scientist, and Jens Ludwig, an economist, reported that misdemeanor arrests for publicly smoking cannabis per precinct jumped from 10 per year to 644 annually between 1993 to 2000. In 2000 alone, NYPD arrested more than 51,000 people for cannabis-related offenses.

Black Americans were more than 50% of those cannabis arrests, though they only represented around 25% of the population. If arrested for cannabis, convictions were twice as likely for Black suspects than white ones.

The paper’s authors argue there is “no good evidence” any of this was “associated with reductions in serious violent or property crimes in the city. As a result, New York City’s marijuana policing strategy seems likely to simply divert scarce police resources away from more effective approaches that research suggests are capable of reducing real crime…. If anything, it has had the reverse effect.”

kamala harris just got series about marijuana reform

Photo by Scott Eisen/Stringer/Getty Images

Kamala Harris

Here’s how Giuliani responded the day Harris became the Democratic vice presidential candidate:

“She went after 1,500 marijuana smokers — marijuana smokers, not people selling it — smokers. And then when she was asked if she smoked marijuana, she went ‘ha ha ha ha yea.’ Tell me this isn’t a horrible person,” Giuliani said while mocking someone puffing a joint.

“All the politicians in San Francisco, all of [former Mayor] Willie Brown’s friends, they went free, but she went after marijuana smokers,” Giuliani added. “Tell me this isn’t a horrible person.”

RELATED: Kamala Harris Will Help With Cannabis Reform (And That’s Good Enough For Me)

Until Harris entered the U.S. Senate, she opposed cannabis reform. In 2010, she co-authored a voter guide arguing against a recreational marijuana legalization initiative, calling it “flawed public policy.” Four years later, Harris laughed in a reporter’s face when asked about legalizing recreational cannabis in California. A 2019 Washington Free Beacon investigation reported that as California Attorney General, Harris sent 1,560 people to state prisons for cannabis offenses between 2011-16.

As a Senator, she has frequently called for decriminalizing cannabis nationwide and sponsored important reform bills like the MORE Act and Marijuana Justice Act. She labeled the “whole war on drugs […] a complete failure” and called for federally legalizing cannabis during her 2020 presidential candidacy.

Since joining the Biden campaign, she told ABC News that under their Administration there will be a “policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana.” On the other hand, a federal grand jury indicted Giuliani associates last year for allegedly bribing state politicians in reward for retail cannabis licenses.

Who was worse?

Giuliani’s policing approach eventually led to what the New York Civil Liberties Union described as “The Marijuana Arrest Crusade in New York City.” Between 1997 to 2006, there were 353,000 cannabis possession arrests in New York. In the two decades prior, there was a combined 60,000 such arrests.

While Giuliani isn’t entirely to blame for those total figures, he sparked the match that lit the bonfire. In 2010, NYPD made 50,300 arrests for marijuana possession. New York spent $75 million pursuing marijuana arrests and jailing mostly young people in 2010, according to Drug Policy Alliance figures. Between 1997 and 2010, New York’s cannabis policing cost taxpayers $500 million to over $1 billion, the organization calculates, as NYPD made over 530,000 marijuana possession arrests in those years.

All that is part of Giuliani’s “broken windows” policing legacy.

Harris, while wrong as a California prosecutor, has since used her power to put out whatever flames she caused and many others. You decide which politician is hypocritical and which is not.

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