Sen. Kamala Harris Says Legalize It—and Oh Yes, She Inhaled

Published on February 11, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
California Sen. Kamala Harris, a former opponent of state legalization, now says she's all in favor of national legalization. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California and 2020 presidential contender, clarified her views on cannabis on this morning during a remarkably frank interview with the popular New York City radio show “The Breakfast Club.”

'Half my family’s from Jamaica,' Harris said. 'Are you kidding me?'

In a wide-ranging conversation that also touched on questions of racial inequality and criminal justice reform, Harris dismissed accusations that she opposes legalization, and then offered listeners a bit of a bombshell: Yep, she’s smoked.

Although Harris wrote about cannabis reform in her 2018 book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, this morning’s interview on New York’s Power 105.1 marked a turning point in her public support of legalization.

She now joins a handful of fellow vocally pro-legalization Democratic senators including Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, whose public statements are helping to establish cannabis as a marquee national issue in the lead up to the 2020 election.

A Changed Position

Harris has drawn ire in the past for being slow to attach her name to cannabis reform bills and her opposition to California’s 2010 Proposition 19, which would have legalized cannabis in the state.

'Listen, I think it gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy.'

Harris was serving as San Francisco District Attorney at the time, and claimed that the proposition would lead to more “driving while high.” As recently as 2015, she made public comments that suggested she still opposed legalization.

Harris offered a drastically different opinion during her interview this morning. When host Charlamagne tha God asked the senator if she opposed legalization, she responded with a laugh: “Half my family’s from Jamaica,” she said. “Are you kidding me?”

Inhaled in College

Harris maintained a similar frankness throughout the segment, revealing that she smoked—at least one joint—“a long time ago” in college. “And I inhaled,” she quipped, in reference to Bill Clinton’s infamous defense of his own consumption. As the hosts broke out laughing, Harris made an apt observation: “I just broke news.”

Continuing on the subject, Charlamagne asked if the senator would consume cannabis again in a post-legalization world. Her response was as telling as it was curiously candid: “Listen, I think it gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy,” she said to, naturally, more good-natured laughter.

NORML: ‘A’ Rating

Despite her past rhetoric, Harris has earned an A rating from NORML. In her recent book, she draws clear lines between cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform: “We need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated,” she writes, “so they can get on with their lives.”

While critics will likely continue to question Harris’ sincerity on the issue, her interview this morning reflects growing support across the country for federal legalization. A poll conducted last October found that nearly two in three Americans believe cannabis should be legal. As Sen. Harris made clear his morning, a handful of presidential hopefuls are eager to make that aspiration a reality.

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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