Rand Paul Says States Should Be Free to Legalize Pot

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses drug policy in an interview with CNN's Jonathan Karl:

The legalization of marijuana is another issue that Paul points to as a way for the GOP to reach more young voters.

Paul himself does not favor legalizing marijuana, but he says individual states—such as Washington and Colorado, which both voted to legalize in November—should be allowed to make marijuana legal.

"States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions," Paul says. "I want things to be decided more at a local basis, with more compassion. I think it would make us as Republicans different."

He also says legal penalties for marijuana should be relaxed.

"I think, for example, we should tell young people, 'I'm not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don't want to put you in jail for 20 years,'" Paul says.

Paul's support for devolving drug policy decisions to the states is pretty bold in the current political context. It is the policy embodied in the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). How many of their fellow congressmen joined them? Nineteen, all but one (Dana Rohrabacher of California) a Democrat.

Rand Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, has been advocating a federalist approach to drug policy for years. In October 2009, for example, he told reporters "most policies of crime and punishment should be and are addressed at the state level," adding, "I would favor a more local approach to drugs." The following month The New York Times reported that "Dr. Paul believes that federal authorities should stay out of drug enforcement." Both Trey Grayson, Paul's opponent in the Republican primary, and Jack Conway, his Democratic opponent in the general election, accused him of being soft on drugs. Paul faced similar charges after he took office, when he blocked bills aimed at banning fake pot, pseudo-speed, and the synthetc psychedelic 2C-E, arguing that the potential sentences were too harsh and that "enforcement of most drug laws can and should be local and state issues" (as his spokeswoman put it). For a Republican with presidential aspirations (which Rand admits having in the CNN interview), this is courageous stuff, even if Rand's hold ultimately succeeded only in avoiding a new 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Rand's opposition to long prison terms for smoking pot is not so bold, especially since people do not serve long prison terms for smoking pot, except in highly unusual situations. Until it was revised by an initiative passed two weeks ago, for example, California's "three strikes" law allowed a life term (with parole possible after 25 years) for marijuana possession charged as a felony following two convictions for "serious or violent" crimes. But that is hardly a typical scenario for the hundreds of thousands of pot smokers arrested every year, who generally do not spend significant time in jail (although they still suffer the humiliation, inconvenience, expense, and long-lasting ancillary penalties associated with a misdemeanor drug charge). Furthermore, most Americans (including Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly!) oppose putting pot smokers in jail for any length of time, and I've never heard even the hardest of hard-line drug warriors in the U.S. advocate anything like 20 years for simple marijuana possession.

Such a policy harks back to the marijuana penalties of half a century ago. In 1966, for instance, Timothy Leary got a 30-year sentence (ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court) under the old Marihuana Tax Act for crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. with a tiny amount of cannabis. Back then the states also treated marijuana possession as a felony, meaning pot smokers could be sentenced to years in prison for personal-use quantities. That is no longer the case, and reformers should not pretend it is; there is no shortage of draconian drug sentences to condemn without getting into the Wayback Machine.

Still, Rand has staked out a clear and consistent position in favor of less federal involvement in drug law enforcement and less severe penalties. With his father gone next year, he and Rohrabacher may be the only Republicans in Congress who are prepared to criticize the Obama administration for interfering with marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington (assuming that is the course the Justice Department takes). Given Paul's record, I was rather dismayed to find no criticism of the war on drugs in his new bookGovernment Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds. Perhaps in a future edition.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • markthemark||

    Wow rand Paul is a hardcore fascist. I much prefer Barney Frank. Libertarians need to go all out to disavow this nut job.

  • BelowTheRim||

    Troll Much?

    Even I can troll better than that weak-ass attempt.

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    It doesn't say much about Reason to have such a lousy caliber of troll. An outlet such as this deserves better.

  • dinkster||

    I'm legitimately curious where and how your line of reasoning came to this conclusion. Call it an academic view of cognitive dissonance.

  • ||

    "States should be allowed...."

    Thats right. States, and the voters of the 50 states are children unable to make their own decisions or deal with the consequences of making their own decisions. Daddy, that is the federal government, must decide what is best and what the states are 'allowed' to do.

    Better language would be that the states have a right to.....

    It is getting easier and easier to empathize with those who advocate for succession.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Maybe after we learn to spell "secession" we can start writing speeches.

  • ||

    I will get out my dictionary. *headsmack*

  • robc||

    Better language would be that the states have a right to.....

    States dont have rights, individuals have rights, states have powers.

    So "allowed to" seems more correct than "right to".

  • mad libertarian guy||

    This

  • sarcasmic||

    That must be the most imaginative alt-text I've every seen!

  • Name Nomad||

    Hmm... who is this fellow? I wonder if... oooooh!

  • Brett L||

    Just say it in the "Matt Damon" voice and it takes on a whole new level of funny.

  • waaminn||

    Man I never even thought about it like that before!
    www.Anon-Max.tk

  • mr simple||

    Good thing you squeezed in that 2 paragraph admonishment of Paul's use of hyperbole, Sullum. You wouldn't want anyone to think you were soft on this Republican.

  • anon||

    Rand Paul Says States Should Be Free to Legalize Pot

    In other news, water is wet.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It's easy to see why Mitch McConnell made an all out attempt to keep Rand Paul out of the Senate. What a radical.

  • robc||

    Mitch hired his campaign manager for his reelection in 2 years.

    Mitch has felt the blowing winds in KY and doesnt want a primary challenge (the Ds are struggling to find a sacrificial lamb).

  • robc||

    Mitch hired Paul's

    pronoun was a bit unclear.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I agree.

    Mitch see exactly what's happening in KY. There are but a small handful of libertarian(ish) people in all of Congress; Kentucky put 2 of them there.

  • squarooticus||

    After recent legalizations in Washington and Colorado, this isn't exactly a brave stand to be taking. A simpler, better thing to say would have been, "People should have the right to smoke whatever they want. My personal opinion on the matter is irrelevant. So I'm in favor of ending federal prohibition of marijuana."

  • robc||

    Apparently it is. All of 18 house members support the idea.

  • Almanian.||

    Rand Paul Says States Should Be Free to Legalize Pot

    And I say they already are free to do so.

    There - that wasn't so hard!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    States dont have rights, individuals have rights, states have powers.

    Exactly.

    I have reached the point where I try to never even use the word "right" due to the hopelessly muddled definition in common usage.

  • Thomas O.||

    He must be doing something right... I've been to a couple right-wing sites where some of their regulars are disowning Rand. Some say they're not gonna support him simply because he's the son of Ron. I wish Rand all the best and hope he DOES run for President one of these days.

    "But what about that Civil Rights Act crack?" Then he should do a full-court press on defending his statement. That private businesses should have a right to refuse service to anyone, and a better solution would be for someone to start a business (and eliminate the roadblocks to starting that business) that would happily welcome the shunned.

  • Fluhdoten1||

    civil rights act is illegal. it declares what shall be orthodox (racial equality).

    its an open defiance of the constitution (and core age old scotus precedent).

    nowhere in the constitution is a particular brand of morality cannonized as something to legally promote (and coerce).

    govt can itself pursue racial equality, from phrase all men are created equally, but it has no business interfering with intellectual liberty of the private citizens and their choices.

    crimes are the only things to regulate. hiring someone or serving someone or doing business with someone is not a crime. civil rights act is govt regulation of legal business that is consensual and beneficial, and is not directly harming someone (crime).

    Now, can i get some circular logic that discriminating is illegal?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "But what about that Civil Rights Act crack?"

    I recently heard a lefty acquaintance bitching about some evul kkkonservatives who were IN HIS PLACE OF BUSINESS, SPENDING MONEY. He was pissed off because one of them said he maintained Florida as his official state of residence, because there is no state income tax.

    He and Lefty Number Two then went into a highly agitated discussion about how he should be able to keep troglodyte ultraconservative Tea Party Republicans not in accord with the Hive Mind out of the joint. I wanted to ask him how he planned to combat the "public accommodation" rule, but I decided not to waste my breath.

  • seguin||

    Maybe you should have. I've been thinking about how I interact with all of my acquaintances and friends lately. I tend to keep my mouth shut, but maybe I'm contributing to the problem when I do that. I'm not saying we should be mean or angry (imho, that's counter-productive) but politely challenging wrongheaded but long held beliefs might just be what's needed to preserve and grow belief in individual liberty.

  • American||

    I like the fact that he was willing to talk about a moratorium on legal immigration. Too much of the focus is on "illegals" when legal immigrants are the ones consuming more welfare, legally voting democrat, and driving down American wages. Unless legal immigration is stoped, the US will look like California and California will look like Mexico. I've made this point many times and open borders libertarians have never adressed it. Why is mexico poor, corrupt, and socialist, and why will Mexico, transplanted to America, look any different?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Derp.

  • RyanXXX||

    Wow, great response. You've convinced me of the utility of open borders!

  • Calidissident||

    You really can't help yourself can you? Have to inject this into every thread, regardless of how unrelated it is?

  • American||

    "Why is mexico poor, corrupt, and socialist, and why will Mexico, transplanted to America, look any different?"
    Again, never been answered.

  • dinkster||

    Mexicans are Catholic, Catholics hate gays and drugs. Therefore, you should welcome Mexicans. I countered your gross generalization with a gross generalization. Your move.

  • Jesse James Dean||

    California has always looked like Mexico, considering it WAS Mexico dumbass.

  • American||

    I trust you've been to both. Dumbass.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    For a Republican with presidential aspirations (which Rand admits having in the CNN interview), this is courageous stuff[.]

    And it will be the one thing that keeps him from gaining any support from his fellow republicans, or coverage from the media.

  • American||

    I doubt it. Most republicans could care less about this issue.

  • Calidissident||

    Bullshit. Only one Republican was willing to cosponser the ending prohibition act along with Paul, and polling consistently shows that Republicans are less open to legalizing marijuana

  • American||

    They're less open to it, but are they going to vote based on that? If they would, you would think that would have come up during the primaries in 2012.

  • RyanXXX||

    I'm glad he's in the Senate, and I respect the balls he does have, but Rand's constant compromising and pussyfooting is getting old. Why does he have to say he doesn't personally approve of legalized marijuana? The logical result of that statement is that he'd like to see marijuana policy left to the states, only so that each and every state could individually ban it.

  • RyanXXX||

    I guess he's just soo desperate to be part of the "serious club", in other words.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Ummm...no. The logical result is that he'd oppose legalization, but accept the results if the decision was made within proper constitutional boundaries.

  • Libertopian||

    "The logical result is that he'd oppose legalization"

    Okay, so he's a huge douche bag then. Am I missing something?

  • uythsb||

    it was the good job with that
    this is courageous stuff, even if Rand's hold ultimately succeeded only in avoiding a new 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.

  • jeanysale@hotmail.com||

    For a Republican with presidential aspirations (which Rand admits having in the CNN interview), this is courageous stuff. And it will be the one thing that keeps him from gaining any support from his fellow republicans, or coverage from the www.shopjordanssale.com media.

  • Rick Santorum||

    If we're going to get pedantic, the states' have the power to criminalize marijuana. To say that states (or even the federal government) has the power to decriminalize marijuana is like saying that they have the power to decrminalize speech.

  • nikea||

    Why do you keep jumping into my wake and trying not to drown, Rafa? At Inter, you had a team that http://www.nikefootballcleatstrade.com/ belonged to me and lifted the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup because I made it possible. Then you urinated into the wind by attempting to give the owner an ultimatum and got sacked after six months. Who does this? Are you actually eating glue like the Rafa boy in my analogy? Maybe you should check your http://www.nikefootballcleatst....._92_1.html house for gas leak or some kind of poison spiders.

  • attractions guide||

    I think they they have already free to do so

  • sohbet||

    very super blogos thanks admin sohbet & sohbet odaları

  • cinsel chat||

    earned that one "Sharon Levy" cares more for boot licking than the Hip sohbet odaları & cinsel sohbet

  • film izle||

    I am really inspired from your blog hoping you will be there with more interesting post like this. filmler

  • sohbet||

    I really love coming here to have a very good blog. sohbet Sohbet odaları

  • chat sohbet||

    very nice publish, i definitely love this website, keep on it. chat

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement