Indian-American candidate for President, Kamala Harris, and the evolution of marijuana and politics

Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in September 2018. Both senators are seeking the Democratic nomation for president in 2020. (Photo: Melina Mara, The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON – President Bill Clinton admitted to smoking marijuana, but famously said he never inhaled. President George W. Bush is believed to have partaken in illicit drugs in his youth, though he always played coy about it. President Barack Obama wrote candidly about his past marijuana and cocaine use, but was never a strong supporter of pot reforms at the federal level.

Now, less than 30 years after Clinton felt the need to qualify his drug use, presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is not only unabashedly owning up to her own personal marijuana use, but is in full support of making it legal nationwide.

“Half my family is from Jamaica, are you kidding me,” Harris said laughing, during a radio interview Monday. “And I did inhale.”

Harris’s unflinching support for legalization shows the dramatic evolution in the ease in which politicians talk about pot now. Whereas once policymakers decried marijuana as a gateway drug, Harris defended its use by saying, “it gives a lot of people joy.”

“And we need more joy in the world,” she said.

Major policy shifts at the federal level often follow state-level change that coincides with a sea change in public opinion. Like the legalization of gay marriage in the last decade, there’s been a swift societal reversal.

Recreational marijuana is currently legal in 10 states. The first states, Colorado and Washington, only changed their laws in 2012.

When Clinton was in the White House, just about 25 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Today a record 66 percent support legalization, according to a Gallup survey.

With that much public support for it, candidates for president, especially on the Democratic side, all but have to come down on the side of legalization. And most of them do.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has sponsored legislation to end the federal prohibition on marijuana use. His co-sponsors include primary contenders Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

But it’s not just limited to Democrats. Former House speaker John A. Boehner, who as of 2011 was against the legalization of marijuana, is now heading up a pro-cannabis lobbying group, following his retirement from Congress. And Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., whose state’s economy has benefited from legalization, is pushing legislation to ensure the federal government doesn’t interfere in states’ individual decisions.

Even President Donald Trump, despite his Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempting to roll back Obama-era reforms on marijuana, hasn’t taken a hard-line stance. Trump even said last summer that he’d be likely to support Gardner’s legislation lifting the federal ban on pot.



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