The ruse goes something like this: Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, went on “The Breakfast Club”, a popular hip hop-centric radio program in New York, and admitted to smoking weed in college. “I have [smoked] and I did inhale,” Harris said, chuckling at her Bill Clinton reference.
Since airing, critics have positioned the interview as a display of Harris’ deceiving ways. The controversy of Reefergate, as it’s been called, demonstrates Harris as a scammer, manipulating and placating voters to fit whatever agenda she’s pushing in the moment.
To be clear, none of these accusations come as a result of Harris smoking weed. Apparently in 2019, we’re suddenly cool with our presidential candidates consuming cannabis in the past. What has caused consternation instead is pinning down when Harris said she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac. Was it in college? Was it in while smoking weed? While she was in law school? This tweet, which went viral and sparked the controversy, sums up the chaos.
Kamala Harris claims to have smoked pot in college while listening to Tupac and Snoop.
Tupac's first album came out in 1991.
Snoop's first album came out in 1993.
Kamala Harris graduated college in 1986.
— victim of capitalism memorial (@joshieecs) February 11, 2019
People really, really care about this. “Fox & Friends” dedicated a whole news segment to Reefergate. The New York Times wrote an explainer article about the controversy, and The Washington Post performed second-by-second analysis of her video — much like a football referee trying to determine if a receiver had possession of the football on a key catch.
The noise became so loud that Harris’ national press secretary, Ian Sams, had to clarify whose question the senator was answering when she said she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac.
This really isn't that complicated. Just watch. pic.twitter.com/jIuRLFUULF
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) February 12, 2019
Many activists, including those on the left, have pointed to Harris’ past as proof that she isn’t a true marijuana ally. Back in 2010 when Harris was California’s Attorney General, she opposed a proposition that would’ve legalized adult-use marijuana. What many fail to mention is how the prop only had 50-50 support in the state, and even the Los Angeles Times declined to endorse it, labeling the legislation “badly crafted” and “poorly thought out.”
Before that, when Harris was battling Steve Cooley to be California’s AG, Harris received support from NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Why? Because Cooley wanted to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries for over-the-counter cash sales to authorized patients. Harris, meanwhile, showed strong support for medical marijuana, saying, “We will not prosecute people who use or sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
By the way, Harris has an A rating from NORML. She is also co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, which would give banks certain protections when dealing with legitimate cannabis business, and the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and effectively decriminalize the plant. Even if Harris wasn’t a bona fide cannabis stan back in 2010, she has more than demonstrated her position as an advocate for cannabis law reform and has backed that up in her voting record.
So again, I have no idea why we’re talking about this and how it is at all a controversy.
VICE’s Harry Cheadle accurately explains why this “scandal is the dumbest story of the year” and why it’s ultimately such a waste of time for voters:
This dynamic isn’t just bad because it clogs up our feeds with nonsense, and necessitates debunking. It ends up taking up space that could be occupied by more productive debates. It seems likely that all of the Democratic presidential contenders, save perhaps Joe Biden, will support cannabis legalization, but Harris is right that that’s far from the end of the story. Along with the question of how to issue DUIs for marijuana users, there’s debates to be had over whether and how to expunge the records of drug offenders, how licensing should work for legal cannabis businesses, and how to enact laws that actually bring an end to black market weed businesses, which has so far been a struggle in states that have legalized pot.
“All of these issues are a lot more important than whether Kamala Harris tried too hard to seem cool on the radio,” Cheadle added.
I couldn’t agree more.