So former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has admitted to smoking marijuana while in prep school, telling the Boston Globe:
"I drank and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover," explaining the behavior was "pretty common."
As Florida governor, Bush good in many ways, especially on fiscal issues during his first term (he has been, at least until recently, very good on immigration from a free-market angle). He has never been good on the drug war, however, and his acknowledgement of past use along with the substance-abuse issues surrounding one of his children will only make this a higher-profile issue.
Another leading contender for the GOP nod, Sen. Rand Paul, is alone among Republicans eyeing 2016 in calling for a change in marijuana policy (a change, it's worth noting, that enjoys majority support among Americans). Paul told the Hill:
"You would think he'd have a little more understanding then," Paul told The Hill while en route to a political event in Texas.
"He was even opposed to medical marijuana," Paul said of Bush, a potential rival in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. "This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do.
"I think that's the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that," he said.
"Had he been caught at Andover, he'd have never been governor, he'd probably never have a chance to run for the presidency," he added.
Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party enjoys high approval ratings. Last fall, for instance, Gallup found just 36 percent of Americans thought well of the Democratic Party and 42 percent thought good thoughts of the GOP. Pew Research finds 41 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party and 46 percent feel good about Democrats.
There's plenty of room for improvement, then, and federal and state marijuana policy reform should be a no-brainer for Republicans as they discuss forward-looking policy issues. Given the GOP's emphasis on devolving decisionmaking to the states, Republicans should obviously embrace allowing states to make a decision upon pot. Given the GOP's rhetoric about getting the government out of people's lives, at the state level, its members should be calling for an end of pot prohibition, replacing failed, expensive policies with penalties against public harms caused by intoxication. Republicans know as well as anyone that the solution to drunk driving, say, is not to ban alchohol sales but to punish drunk drivers. So it should be with other intoxicants.
Given his family's struggles with substance abuse, Bush is even in a better position than most to explain another benefit of standing down in the drug war: Keeping drugs illegal makes it that much harder for people with problems to seek treatment. If you've got a use problem (whether pot, booze, heroin, you name it), it's hard enough to confront. Exposing someone to criminal penalties on top of that makes it that much harder to deal.
After the 2012 presidential election loss by Mitt Romney, the Republican Party said it was going to do a total reboot and figure out what it should stand for in the future. In many ways, Rand Paul is about the only national Republican leader who is taking that seriously. He's always been great on spending and privacy issues; he's now becoming increasingly outspoken on the drug war, sentencing reform, and foreign policy. He alone has actually been reaching out to new audiences, from minorities to alienated rural white voters.
His position on the drug war could (and should!) be much more openly libertarian, IMO. But he's right to push Jeb Bush and other would-be presidential candidates to face up to the hypocrisy of their stance toward pot and other drugs. It's not simply personal hypocrisy, either, that they smoked dope and got away with it. It's the ideological hypocrisy that's worse. You say you're for getting the government out of people's lives but you want to regulate our intoxicants of choice? That sort of flagrant contradiction, which extends to many GOP positions on personal and social issues, is surely one reason Republicans as a concept are well below 50 percent approval.
That Paul's position is also likely to be popular among voters and to pique the curiosity of independents who really want to focus on core government functions is just a bonus. Voters are clearly fed up with not just the pragmatic failures of both parties and their leaders over the past 15 years. We're also fed up with the intellectual and ideological confusion too. The party that actually starts adhering to its stated principles will realign politics massively and powerfully. It's not complicated, but it will mean actually being serious about what you say and then following through on it.