Sen. Kamala Harris endorses federal marijuana legalization

A pile of weed across a white table.
Rashad Sisemore/File

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Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, announced her support for the federal legalization of cannabis Monday.

During an interview on the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Harris denied she opposed marijuana legalization and added that she herself had smoked in college and “inhaled.” That day, she released an emailed statement to supporters calling it “a matter of repairing our communities, system, and country.”

In her statement, Harris said support for legalizing marijuana “only grows stronger by the year” and that the legalization will address issues in the “damaged” criminal justice system.

“Our system continues to target and imprison young Black and Latinx Americans for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses at high levels,” Harris said in the statement. “Too many lives and communities have been ruined by regressive policies.”

Historically, Harris has not always supported the legalization of marijuana. As a district attorney, she opposed a failed 2010 California measure to legalize marijuana. Harris did not take a position on the 2016 Proposition 64, passed by the California voters, legalizing cannabis in the state. California is now one of 10 states — not including the District of Columbia — to legalize marijuana.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison said California has done a “good and responsible” job with the legalization of marijuana and that federal legalization has more upsides than downsides.

Harrison added that she believes there are several benefits to legalizing marijuana federally, including eliminating the underground market for cannabis and the crime that accompanies it. According to Harrison, “prohibition simply doesn’t work” and creates more dangerous cannabis products.

While Harrison emphasized the positive effects of legalizing marijuana, she also noted that looking into the drug’s potency is important and that marijuana should not be advertised in appealing ways toward people under the age of 21.

Campus freshmen McKenna O’Keefe and Max Tiehen both attended Harris’ campaign rally in Oakland and said they also support decriminalization of marijuana.

“I believe that in order to strive for a place of racial equality or racial decriminalization … legalizing marijuana is a huge part in making that happen,” O’Keefe said.

Tiehen added that the possible price increase from federal legalization would not counterbalance legalization’s potential benefits. He especially emphasized the medical advantages that marijuana offers.

Councilmember Ben Bartlett said he is a supporter of the legalization of marijuana and is “enthused” by Harris’ call for legalization.

Bartlett said that by breaking down the federal barriers of illegal marijuana, commercialization of marijuana will be safer. The variety of marijuana products, such as vaporizers, will be regulated and held to safer health standards. Federal legalization will also benefit interstate trade, according to Bartlett.

“(Legalization is) rational; it’s ethical and it’s a big boom for the emerging wellness economy,” Bartlett said.

Contact Maya Akkaraju and Julie Madsen at [email protected].