Kamala Harris says she smoked marijuana in college, responds to derogatory online comments on race

Harris responded to a wide range of questions from the hosts.

February 11, 2019, 11:42 AM

Through laughter in a casual interview on a morning radio show on Monday, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris clarified her support for the legalization of marijuana -- and took it one step further, telling the hosts she smoked in her college days.

And, yes, she said, she "inhaled."

"Have you ever smoked?" Charlamange tha God, a host on The Breakfast Club, a syndicated radio show, asked Harris, the senator from California and 2020 presidential candidate.

"I have. And I inhaled. I did inhale,” she responded with laughter, making a joke about former President Bill Clinton's claim while he was running for president that he had smoked marijuana while at graduate school at Oxford but didn't like it and never inhaled.

"It was a long time ago but yes," she said, laughing with Charlamagne and co-host DJ Envy. "I just broke news."

Harris, a former California attorney general, also disputed reports that she doesn't support legalizing marijuana. "That's not true," she said.

"I think that it gives a lot of people joy and we need more joy," she said.

The senator supported fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, which would remove the drug from the list of federally banned substances and aims to penalize states that have disproportionately high rates of arrest for marijuana offenses for people of color.

Harris also pushed for legalizing marijuana, and expunging offenses from people's records, in her new book "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey."

In the radio interview, she joked about her family members back in Jamaica, where her father is from, who would be disappointed in her.

"Look, I joke about it, I have joked about it. Half my family is from Jamaica, are you kidding me?" she laughed.

Harris said she first smoked in college and remembers the feeling of being high. Charlamagne commended her for giving a "real honest answer."

Harris is not the first presidential candidate to openly acknowledge smoking weed. Over the past decade, support for legalizing the drug has become a widespread platform in the Democratic Party — largely because of the racial disparities in marijuana-related offenses and convictions. Former President Barack Obama opened up about smoking marijuana in his book, "Dreams from My Father," and said it was common when he was growing up in Hawaii.

Harris also responded to questions from the hosts of the show, which caters to a younger audience, about memes and comments they'd seen online. Much of the content was derogatory and questioned her connection to the black community. Harris' father is Jamaican and her mother is Indian. Her husband, attorney Douglas Emhoff, is white.

It’s a conversation political scientist professor Niambi Carter, who researches race and politics at Harris’ alma mater, Howard University, cautioned to be deserving of a broader context.

“People can say anything online, but it doesn't mean their opinions are in any way indicative about what most black people feel about black immigrants or even other people of color across the diaspora," Carter said. “Black people understand the complexity of black people, that is not news to us."

The same “litmus test” arose when former President Barack Obama, whose mother is white and whose father is Kenyan, ran for president, Carter said. Harris is likely to come under even more scrutiny as she campaigns to be the first ever black woman president, she predicted.

“There may be tension, but to say there is no space for a Barack Obama or a Kamala Harris … just does not make any sense and is not resonant in the long history that has always appreciated collaborating with men and women across the diaspora,” Carter said.

While there may be legitimate policy critiques to have about Harris, Carter said, questions about her parents or her husband “are not the real issues” and just "side conversations."

In the interview, Harris was clear: "I'm black and I'm proud of being black," she said. "I was born black. I will die black and I'm not going to make excuses for anybody because they don't understand."

Harris was also asked to respond to criticism Obama received for not providing enough assistance to black communities, although she pushed back on the analysis of Obama's legacy.

Harris said she has a plan for working to improve the lives of black Americans. "But I also want to stand up for Barack Obama because, first of all, none of us can do enough. And we all know that," she said. "If you are a parent raising a child you know we can never do enough. As leaders, we can never do enough. It's important to acknowledge that. But let's also give people credit for what they've accomplished."

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