The Blunt-Talking Candidate
A marijuana candidate is taking hits at Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and hopes to make her senate career go up in smoke.
California senator Dianne Feinstein is a Democrat in name, but votes in line with President Trump nearly 30 percent of the time. Serving since 1992, she opposes “Medicare for All” and supports the death penalty, making her an old-guard moderate in what should be one of the Senate’s most progressive seats.
Oh, and she also opposes her own state’s recreational-marijuana laws.
But Feinstein has to face the voters this year, and one cannabis champion is trying to bogart her out of a fifth full term. Criminal defense and civil rights attorney Pat Harris is also running as a Democrat, and he’ll be on the June 5 primary ballot that determines the “top two” for November’s Senate election.
“Dianne Feinstein has been out of step with Californians,” Harris tells SF Evergreen, condemning “her support for the Iraq War, her support for continuing surveillance of citizens in the warrantless searches, and her willingness, on the [Senate] Intelligence Committee, to allow the intelligence community to do whatever they want to do as far as tapping our phones.”
You may have heard of Pat Harris. He’s served as a co-counsel in the high-profile trials of Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and Barry Bonds’ trainer Greg Anderson. In recent years, he’s won more than $20 million for victims in wrongful death and police shooting cases.
Now Harris is barnstorming the state in his signature 1988 white school bus, converted to run on ethanol fuel. He’s rebelling against Feinstein’s work-across-the-aisle approach, an outdated mentality against Trump’s take-no-prisoners GOP.
“She’s said ‘We don’t need rabble-rousers.’ She’s wrong. We do,” Harris says. “We need people who are going to raise a little hell. We need the Elizabeth Warrens and the Bernie Sanders.”
“Her ongoing support for enormous defense budgets is one thing that really got me involved,” Harris says. “She not only has voted to give Trump what he wanted in the defense budget, she voted for a budget that was even more than Trump wanted.”
And like many of us, Harris is still furious that Democrats acquiesced to deny President Obama the Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination, a capitulation whose consequences we will feel for generations.
“It was a constitutional crisis, and the Democrats rolled over, including Senator Feinstein,” Harris says.
“The Republican party refuses to negotiate, refuses to compromise, refuses to even look at anything proposed by the Democrats,” he adds, “yet we have a senator who says she’s going to continue to work with them.”
Harris insists you won’t see any centrist surrenders if he’s in the Senate. “For 25 years of my life, every day I’ve gone into a courtroom and fought,” he says. “I’ve taken on Pfizer. I’ve taken on Bank of America. I’ve taken on Wells Fargo. I took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of children.”
And now he wants to take on Jeff Sessions and the federal government’s war on marijuana.
“I’ve always been a believer of getting marijuana taken off as a Schedule I drug, which is ridiculous. As a criminal justice attorney, I’ve seen the effects it’s had,” he says of the lengthy, mandatory minimum sentences that do so much harm to communities of color.
But Harris also sees massive economic and social benefits to legal marijuana. “In Colorado, domestic violence is down 25 percent [since legalization],” he says. “Law enforcement credits that to people eating edibles or smoking a joint instead of drinking alcohol. In Washington and Colorado, the rates of opiate addiction are dropping.”
The June 5 Senate primary pits Harris against state senator Kevin de León and a smattering of lesser-known candidates along with the overwhelming favorite Feinstein. (Notably, no high-profile Republican has yet joined the race.) Where do they stand on legal marijuana?
“Dianne Feinstein does not support cannabis,” Harris says. “She’s always used the catchphrases from Reefer Madness about ‘gateway drugs’ and that silliness. Kevin de León has been sitting on the fence, saying he sort of supports it but sort of doesn’t.
“Cannabis doesn’t just need supporters,” Harris adds. “It needs champions. I will be a champion of cannabis.”
The way California elections are structured, Harris only needs to finish in the top two in the June 5 “open primary” election for a one-on-one match with Feinstein in November. The latest polling shows Feinstein at 42 percent, de León at 16 percent, and a significant 39 percent still undecided. Harris and several other candidates’ names were not included in this poll.
Pat Harris sees plenty of potential to move the undecided vote and plant the seeds of a new pro-marijuana Democratic party.
“We cannot be a party of hating Donald Trump. We have to have our own agenda,” he says. “We don’t have the bold, strong leaders that are willing to go on television, radio, podcasts, and newspapers every single day and fight for these things. That’s who I am, and that’s what I’ll do in the Senate.”