Juliette Kayyem, admitting youthful marijuana use, presses for criminal justice reform

Juliette Kayyem isn’t afraid to admit it.

She smoked marijuana.

“I had smoked pot in my teenage years. To be honest, I don’t remember the details of how many times — it was a few,” she said, recalling how her parents grounded her for a month after she admitted using the drug.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Democratic candidate for governor, a former state and federal homeland security official, is using the frank acknowledgment to push her plan for criminal justice reform.

“Society has changed. And we need to make our corrections and prisons and criminal justice system change with it,” she said in a telephone interview today.

Kayyem said the state’s criminal justice system and the trajectory of spending on prisons is at odds with the core values of Massachusetts, which she called “a progressive and forgiving state.”

She cited a study anticipating up to $1 billion dollars in required spending on new inmate housing by 2020 and said that course was not sustainable.

Kayyem ticked off three priorities on changing the state’s criminal justice system: reforming sentencing laws to “put fewer people into jail for nonviolent crimes,” get more people into drug courts and veterans courts, and boost “comprehensive support services” for people who get out of prison to increase reintegration and reduce recidivism.

Citing her time in counterterrorism positions, she said “no one can accuse me of being soft on crime.” But, Kayyem insisted, reforming the system, with a particular focus on nonviolent offenders, was extremely important.

Pressed for the specifics of her marijuana use as a youth, the Cambridge Democrat let out a laugh and declared that she had already said plenty.

But, Kayyem added, chuckling, she would admit to a few other things while she at it: “I’ve also jaywalked, sped, and lied about my age.”

Kayyem first spoke about her marijuana use on Boston Herald Radio.

The Globe reported on Monday that advocates are pushing to legalize the drug through a 2016 ballot initiative.

Currently, Kayyem faces four other Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. They are: Attorney General Martha Coakley; Treasurer Steven Grossman; former Obama administration health care official Donald M. Berwick; and Joseph C. Avellone, an executive at a bio-pharmaceutical research firm.

On the Republican side, the current candidates are Charlie Baker, the 2010 GOP nominee, and Mark R. Fisher, a political novice from Shrewsbury.

Two independent candidates have also launched bids for governor: Evan Falchuk, an attorney and former business executive; and evangelical christian pastor Scott Lively.

Venture capital investor Jeffrey S. McCormick, an independent, is seriously considering a run as well.