Sen. Kamala Harris of California sat down for an interview with “The Breakfast Club” on Monday morning where she owned up to smoking weed and said she supports marijuana legalization.
In a clip shared by the radio show, host Charlemagne Tha God asked Harris about the talk he’s heard that she opposes the legalization of marijuana. Harris responded, “That’s not true,” jokingly adding that “half my family’s from Jamaica.” Harris also confirmed to the show that she has indeed smocked that loud, saying “I did inhale” but that “it was a long time ago.” (She said it was a joint and nodded when she was asked if it was in college.) But she demurred when Charlemagne asked if she would partake if weed was federally legalized, saying only that she knows “It gives a lot of people joy.”
Harris is gearing up for her 2020 presidential campaign in a crowded Democratic Party field; as a former district attorney and attorney general, Harris’ law enforcement past has long stood out as the main hurdle for her to clear if she hopes to score progressive votes in the primaries. The clip is everything it’s supposed to be—a fun, soft landing spot for Harris to test out this new, non-cop side and see if it sticks. What the interview and Harris ignore, though, what can generously be described as a checkered history on the subject.
During her days in law enforcement, the weed question was always a sticky one for Harris—as district attorney of San Francisco, Harris restricted the ability of drug users and small-time drug dealers to get out on bail. At the same time, her office implemented “Back on Track,” a program aimed at getting first-time offenders into school and jobs to lower recidivism rates.
As she rose through the ranks to the office of attorney general, her tone mellowed, but she still did what she had to in order to retain the limited law enforcement support she had. In December 2013, Harris’ office released a report summary in which it admitted that legalizing weed could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. But during her 2014 campaign for re-election, Harris openly laughed at the thought of marijuana legalization in California when asked by members of the press—the question was triggered by the fact that her opponent, Republican Ron Gold, came out in support of recreational legalization. She was among the public officials to oppose Prop 64, a sloppy attempt at legalizing weed in California.
Harris also struck a lighter tone as she trained her sights on a presidential campaign. In January 2018, Harris wrote in her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Dream, that “something else it’s past time we get done is dismantling the failed war on drugs—starting with legalizing marijuana.” Then in May 2018, Harris came out in support of federal legalization when she teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey to co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act.
People change their minds all the time, and personal growth shouldn’t be wholly discounted just because a decision is also politically expedient. So it is inarguably a net positive that Harris, an early leading candidate, publicly stated she’s not in favor of further criminalizing marijuana. It’s just that with Harris, specifically on drug and law enforcement-related issues, it’s never been quite as simple as taking her at her word.