Rand Paul

Dear Rand Paul: Legalize it, Already!

Wanna make some headlines in Boulder today? Have the courage to be the only Republican presidential candidate to say what most Americans already believe about pot


Still room to get your grades up! ||| Marijuana Policy Project
Marijuana Policy Project

Dear Sen. Paul,

Allow me to reintroduce you to someone. Young guy (for national politics), twinkle in his eye, someone people would typically describe as a "fresh face in Washington" before this insane political season of sexagenarian amateurs gobbling up most of the country's available political oxygen. This fella came to office by running a maverick campaign against the party establishment's favorite, stressing at least some libertarianish themes, and surviving a nasty primary smear campaign about being some kind of whacked-out drug creep.

Sure, I could be talking about you. But in this case I'm referring to Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic former city councilman from El Paso who in 2012 unseated eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes—a former Border Patrol agent—in part by advocating the legalization of marijuana. O'Rourke is unorthodox in other respects; like you, for example, he favors term limits, which is not a typical liberal position. But he was an early mover on the kinds of criminal justice reform you've been championing, and has some insight into what it's like for a politician to stick his neck out on weed.

I interviewed O'Rourke a month ago for Reason; here's a snippet of potential relevance to your debate opportunities tonight in Boulder, Colorado (I'll bold the most applicable bits):

What kind of name is "Beto," anyway? ||| NORML

reason: After seeing how things are and what your colleagues are like in Washington, and then also observing the very tangible strides that bipartisan criminal justice reform has made particularly over the last 18 months, do you think there's a possibility that legalization or parts of rolling back the drug war—that the same thing can happen to that as happened basically after Joe Biden gave his trial balloon about gay marriage, where suddenly all Democrats or most Democrats who were too timid to talk about it now all say "Yes, of course, we've always been in favor of gay marriage!" Could we be at a political tipping point where two years from now it is just an overwhelmingly normal position, and you start to see this thing getting dismantled? Or are the structures different and deeper and more difficult?

O'Rourke: I think the answer is yes.

I think it's one of these issues where the people are way ahead of their representatives. It's just been so hard-wired into politicians for so long that you can't touch this one, and so it's almost like this phantom restriction that's no longer there, as measured in public opinion or election outcomes; anyway you look at it.

If one of the presidential candidates—really no one better than Donald Trump to introduce an idea like this, because no one is talking about anything else—but if any of the candidates were to introduce this, it would make news. But I don't think people would get too excited one way or the other about it. The same way if a candidate today were to say I do or don't support gay marriage. America's there, and everyone in D.C. is kind of catching up.

I wonder, though, what the trigger's going to be. I wonder who that person is, or what that event is in the U.S. that finally allows this much needed change to take place. Maybe it's a presidential candidate or maybe it's this new administration starting in January of 2017, and that's the political opening to do the right thing. But I do think it happens sooner than later, certainly think it's very possible in the next five years.

I wonder who that person is….Senator, are you really going to cede that 2016 presidential ground to the socialist?

You're in Boulder, you've already raised money this summer from the Colorado cannabis industry, you're meeting with some Students for Rand any minute now, and you volunteered these comments at the University of Colorado last night:

"I want to give you an idea what it's like in Washington," Paul said about the state's legalization of marijuana. "They are really, really worried about you. … And I kid you not, they think you are wielding axes and running naked through the streets. They think it's utter mayhem out here."

"I'm not here to advocate for marijuana," Paul continued. "But I'm here to advocate for freedom. And you know what, if I'm president I'm going to leave Colorado the hell alone."

This is all in keeping with your excellent and detailed track record of trying to get the federal government out of the pot-crackdown business, and all its freedom-squelching subsidiaries. So why am I harassing a criminal justice-reforming 10th Amendment constitutionalist to say that he would personally vote for a state-level legalization?

Three words: Authenticity, opportunism, and endgame.

1) Authenticity. Voters so far this election cycle are flocking to candidates they perceive to be speaking deeply held, unpopular truths. Your go-to quote about legalization, while perfectly in keeping with good federalist principles, is nevertheless the opposite of that: "I really haven't taken a stand on…the actual legalization. I haven't really taken a stand on that, but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't."

Have Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders surprised all prognosticators this cycle by saying "I haven't really taken a stand on that"? No, they have not. That phrase signals a politician calculating how much of his own beliefs he can get away with advocating. And while I have and will continue to applaud you for the approach of figuring out how best to mainstream libertarian ideas within the unfriendly confines of the Republican Party and United States Senate, Beto O'Rourke is onto something when it comes to the phantom opposition to this particular position.

To put it bluntly (sorry!), 58 percent of Americans now favor legalizing pot, including 71 percent of adults under age 35 (I hear your comeback depends heavily on the support of student groups?). Yes, Republican support is just around 39 percent overall, but 63 percent of millennial Republicans and 47 percent of Gen Xers are already there. Given trendlines and demographics, what looks like a lonely Republican position today will be crowded tomorrow.

2) Opportunism. Americans have been watching these GOP debates in record numbers; ask Carly Fiorina how important it is to dominate a post-debate news cycle. "Republican Candidate Comes Out for Legal Weed in Colorado"? The headline writes itself.

But these contests are also about contrast. Wherever you differ from the entire rest of the stage should be seen as an opportunity, not a danger. That goes for being a spending hawk, an intervention skeptic, and a criminal justice reformer. A majority of the GOP field has now moved to your position of respecting Colorado's legalization, which sounds like an opportunity to create some new distance. You haven't topped 5 percent in a national poll in two months, so maybe it's time to stop worrying about the downside risks.

3) Endgame. Let's imagine the most likely scenario, statistically: you do not win the GOP nomination, and you retain your Senate seat. That means you'll be in national politics until at least 2023, perhaps in a position to run for president again. What do you want, policy-wise, to happen over the next eight years?

Among other prominent and important goals, you want like hell for the drug war to end. You hate that damn thing. "I'll do everything to end the war on drugs," you told Bill Maher last year.

Well, so. ||| Wikipedia

I interpret "everything" to include a forthright and early declaration from a brave politician that state bans on this leafy green plant, while tolerable on federalist grounds, are intolerable morally. They are the product of bullying politicians like Chris Christie telling peaceful adults what they can and cannot put into their own bodies. Pot prohibition is the gateway drug for police to harass comparatively powerless communities and ensnare millions into a profoundly flawed criminal justice system.

The inevitable logic of your multi-layered hostility to the drug war is supporting the legalization of marijuana. What's more, everybody knows this. Might as well get there sooner rather than later, and while the cameras are still rolling.

Since I started this letter with a re-introduction; let me finish with one, too. There once was a politician who wrote these words:

A plurality of Americans are no longer Republicans or Democrats. These Americans want a new combination of beliefs. These Americans are fiscally conservative and also concerned with personal liberty. A philosophy that joins economic and personal liberty becomes a potent political force. Such a philosophy transcends typical political labels and parties—and crosses all classes.

This philosophy of liberty defends the poor, defends minority rights, and protects the privacy of all of us.

A candidate who champions this philosophy can unify the country.

Remember that guy? Be him tonight.



UPDATE: Looks like Bill Steigerwald was thinking along similar lines. Check out his debate advice here.

NEXT: U.S. Death Rate Decline Has Slowed

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  1. It’s like Welch doesn’t want Paul to make it through the GOP primaries at all.

    1. It is a bit ironic that he talks about supposedly phantom opposition before showing that the GOP support is under 40%. And then cites that these are the younger Republicans who probably aren’t going to carry you in the primaries.

      That said – Rand Paul playing it safe isn’t going to win shit. You don’t need a majority of Republicans to support you here, just a plurality.

      1. He seems so obviously coached on stage. He needs to relax, stop listening to his handlers, and talk principles. When he’s confrontational, he comes off bitchy. When he’s educational, he comes off as the smartest guy in the room.

        1. So, when Rand Paul gets confrontational, you think he’s listening to his handlers? I’m seeing more contradictory advice for Rand. His confrontational personality is hardly politically safe.

          When Rand talks about how he went to Ferguson and he’s a different kind of Republican, libertarians cheer and the average Republican cringes. When he talks about marijuana having a disproportionate impact on the poor, the Republican base does not care. When he talks about the failure of intervention, most Republicans think he’s a pussy. Frankly, they don’t care about the NSA spying, either, or the drone war.

          Rand struggles in the polls, and the response from libertarians is contradictory nonsense that comes off as bitterness because our ideas don’t sell in primary season. He becomes the whipping boy for not doing it right even if there aren’t intelligent answers as to what he can do.

          If he’s going to lose, I’d rather see him lose as a libertarian than a lukewarm centrist. That’s about the best I have.

          1. The primary is a beauty contest, and Rand has the same problem as Ron. Neither of them portrayed “presidential behavior” on the debate stage. People are looking for somebody who is calm, confident, and well-spoken. For the most part, they don’t give a shit about content. Trump wouldn’t be a top contender if they gave a shit about content.

            1. Trump is well spoken??

            2. Or calm…I mean, he’s confident, but usually they tell you not to be an egotistical jackass.

              1. There are a lot of political handler handbooks that will have to be rewritten after Trump.

    2. Paul’s only chance is standing out from the crowd. He can’t out-conservative the other candidates. Something like this is his only chance. Otherwise he’s going to follow the path of his father, at best.

      1. So…he needs to become more like his father to not become his father? That’s what I’m hearing here?

        I think some libertarians need to face the facts that Rand is screwed here no matter what he does. There isn’t a significant audience in the GOP for libertarian views.

        1. We had to destroy the village to save it, so…..yeah

        2. Not on social issues. And less and less on economic issues, too. Fiscal issues were lost a long time ago.

          I think it’s worth looking at the tactics that the progressives and socialists began using in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adapt them for libertarian values, and then work on spreading libertarian values and philosophy with the knowledge that this is a long-term project. Looking for salvation at the ballot box isn’t going to get it done in any substantial way.

          1. The problem is that a lot of the things that would spread libertarian values are expressly illegal or at least discouraged these days. Kids deciding to work instead of going to high school? illegal. Homeschooling? highly regulated. Living in a community with like-minded individuals? Intolerant. Basing your business on your religion or ethics? discriminatory. Using your money for charity? Inflated away the value, taxed the rest. Diverting the creek in your backyard to avoid your house flooding? sanctioned by the EPA.

            Libertarian values are spread through revolution, because the default position of the State is despotism.

        3. Especially when it comes to legalizing marijuana. That is not something that the majority of the GOP agrees with.

          Even the free market stuff isn’t all that important to them. Sure they like slightly lower taxes, but they fully support increasing the military budget. They only want to cut from things they hate (entitlements) but things they get excited about are off-limits.

          Rand has no chance at the nomination now anyways, so it really doesn’t matter what he says or does. It’s between Carson and Trump, who are not ideal candidates for libertarians by any stretch of the imagination.

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  2. This is one of the best written pieces I’ve ever seen written here at Reason.

    Kudos Matt and lets hope Rand is listening

    1. Well,there’s the Rand Paul of our dreams who would do that, and then there’s the practical-minded Rand Paul of objective reality, accurately described by Hugh below.

      Not sure whether Paul is staying in the race in hopes of a VP nod, or just wants to keep his profile up for future runs. As often said here, he can do the most good by merely holding on to his seat in the US Senate.

    2. Kudos Matt


      lets hope Rand is listening

      He seems to be listening to whomever is telling him to be a middling snore.

  3. Look Matt, I think Rand’s strategy of blending into the Team Red wallpaper by sucking up to SoCons and playing footisie with warboners has paid off pretty well so far. I mean, you don’t get ahead in politics by articulating a strong case for clear and achievable policy goals.

    1. Snark-o-rama!

    2. Or it could be that politicians–even the less horrible ones–are still fucking shitheel power-hungry assholes, and expecting any of them to come to the rescue and save us all from statism is absolutely asinine?

      1. So….you’ll at least CONSIDER Hillary for 2016 then?

        *marks down Epi as a “maybe” for Herself*

      2. Less horrible? That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about anyone!

    3. I get real tired of hearing from libertarians how he’s been soft on the anti-hawk drum. If there’s one issue he’s taken onto the debate stage both times, it’s his anti-interventionism. This despite the fact that that shit really doesn’t sell in the GOP – not this election cycle especially.

      There has been nothing equivocal about his position on foreign policy adventurism.

      1. There’s no question that he’s better on foreign policy than anyone else running in either party.

        But he still opposed the Iran deal because it was too conciliatory to Iran. So he’s either not that well informed on what a sham the deal and the negotiation process leading up to it are, or he’s crab-dancing to appeal to warboners.

        1. I oppose the Iran deal, and it’s not because I want war or care what chicken hawks think. You call it a sham, so i guess the issue is that he doesn’t articulate his opposite in the same way you do?

      2. “Nothing equivocal”? How about signing the Neocons’ Tom Cotton letter? Profile in Cowardice.

  4. Legalize it? I do not think so. We are close the winning the War On Drugs, and I would hope that we intensify efforts in order to achieve victory.

    1. That intensification seems to be underway.

      Being suspected of having some pot will now get you shot in the back, and its perfectly legal for the cop to do so. Hard to get more intense than that.

      1. Oh come on RC, of course it could get more intense.

        “Hey you teenagers standing by the Circle K, I bet you are thinking about smoking weed! That’s a taserin’.”

      2. Hard to get more intense than that.

        I will take that bet.

      3. You know how progressives for a while argued cop violence stemmed from how many guns people have, and anyone would be antsy in their shoes (pre-Black Lives Matter)? Well, pot-prohibitionists of all strikes are just itching to pull out the reefer madness card again.

    2. +1 surge

    3. “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?”

      1. Dang it, I came here to say that!

        1. All too easy.

            1. Did you see the new trailer for Force Awakens? Looks intriguing.

  5. Ohhhhhhhh, right. “Libertarians” are the pot-loving ones. Right.

    *pulls lever for one of the TEAMS*

  6. OT: If you have not watched Anthony Jeselnick’s special “Thoughts and Prayers” on teh Netflix? yet – WATCH IT!! My family and I about had strokes from laughing so hard.

    Whatever is “off limits” and “too far”, that motherfucker makes fun of. My kind of guy!

  7. School deputy who body slammed student FIRED after emerging smiling from his home… while teen’s lawyer claims she’s been left riddled with injuries including rug burn on her face

    Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced Deputy Ben Fields has been relieved of duty
    Fields, 34, was captured on video Monday overturning a student in her seat in classroom and dragging her across the floor
    Deputy had been suspended without pay since the Monday morning incident
    Lott blamed the 16-year-old student in the videos for the incident saying she was ‘disruptive’ and ‘disrespectful’


    I’m sure a dozen police departments have already offered him a job.

    1. She texted in class? That monster.

      1. Yes. She used her phone, and because teachers are basically authoritarian hacks themselves, they let it disrupt the whole class while they tried to get her to leave. Her using her phone is less of a distraction than the solutions they have. Same with them protecting their authority. The thought of a student refusing an order from a teacher and an administrator are unacceptable, but there’s no talk of the fact that instead of dealing with it after class or something rational like that, they turned the entire class time into a sideshow.

        Then when all that fails, they go to the cop.

        1. “dealing with it after class”? So when the teacher asks a student to get off the phone and the student goes,”Y’know what? Naaah.” The teacher continues class having been put in her place. That kind of thinking enables our education system’s downward spiral.

    2. War on cops!

  8. Why not just come out and say “the Drug Problem is a medical problem and Prohibition is not the cure.”

    1. That would take courage and the text isn’t in the King James Version.

  9. Or he could say – “the benefits of cannabis to some people are obvious. However, cannabis is a schedule one drug preventing human trials in the US. Human trials are going on in Spain and Israel on cancer cures. We need to reschedule cannabis to allow medically sound human trials in the US. ”

    About 80% of Americans favor medical cannabis. Only 58% favor legalization. (Heh).

  10. It is a bit ironic that he talks about supposedly phantom opposition before showing that the GOP support is under 40%.

    Somewhere between 30% and 40% support in the crowded R primary field would make him the frontrunner.

    1. And you are assuming that the 40% for legal marijuana are the same demographics as primary voters, and then at least implying a solid chunk of them would be single issue voters on the subject.

      Republican primary voters are older and crankier. A position at least potentially beneficial in a general is not always so in a primary.

  11. I’ll leave this here for Bailey: http://thehill.com/policy/ener…..e-research

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  13. I’m with you Matt. Paul should come out for legalization. At least he’d be standing on principle and, let’s be honest here, it can’t really hurt him because he’s already doing frigging terrible.

  14. I don’t care who finally gets elected, nor do I care what the Fed does/does not do, nor whether, according to Mr or Ms. “investment advisor with a claimed “near perfect prediction record” [insert advisor name of choice] , we are supposedly in for recession, depression, deflation, hyper inflation, a stock market boom, or whatever .

    Why don’t I care?

    Because whatever happens, my entirely self-managed, fully diversified, once per year adjusted long term savings plan will be safely protected and will , 9 times out of 10, grow at an average of 8% per annum over and above the prevailing inflation [or deflation], rate, year in, year out, as it has since 1986 when I started using it.

    Savings plan results 1972-2011:



  15. Who cares?!? Rand steadfastly supports the 10th Amendment. So, it would not be illegal. Colorado would be left alone and so would any other state that wished to do the same. He’s saying, leave it up to the people to decide.
    Rand Paul isn’t going to be some “guy” to impress any constituency, even if they are his biggest. He is going to follow the Constitution. His Presidency would be the first Constitutional Presidency in 120 years. It’s hard for us to concieve of such a thing. It would be very unlike anything we have ever seen and it’s exactly what this country needs at this moment in our history. Rand Paul 2016!

    1. Repeal the CSA. It is not a Constitutional Power.

      1. ^^^ THIS!

  16. He needs to tailor his message to his audience. Explain that the drug war is a waste of money. We pay to investigate, prosecute, and imprison people who could otherwise be working and supporting themselves, paying taxes, Tex Treatment is cheaper and probably more effective than prohibition.

    While the democrats claim that income inequality is the great political issue of our time, rand should counter that the national debt is the biggest threat to the future of the US. Then explain how seemingly radical ideas can fix the problem in less than a generation. Traditional republicans can respect that, and rand comes off as the straight-talking anti-politician that seems to be en vogue.

  17. Rand Paul is tremendously frustrating. He has nothing to lose at this point by letting his freak flag fly, but he just. Won’t. Do it. Why? He’s not going to be president, he knows that. Just say some crazy libertarian craziness already, Rand.

  18. Another maryjewanna fluff piece!

  19. Another maryjewanna fluff piece!

  20. Well, Rand Paul is certainly not the Libertarian his dad has been all these years. It’s a shame Libertarians have had to use the Republican Party to win elections because, at its core, the Republican Party in no more interested in shrinking government than the most ardent statist liberal progressive Democrat. Both want to increase federal government reach and power, they just have different paths. Republicans want more foreign misadventures, bigger military and more meddling in the affairs of other countries, even thought it’s those very activities that caused our foreign ills. Meanwhile, Democrats want wealth redistribution and more useless government jobs to win re-election, over and over again.

    Term limits would help eliminate both.

  21. Paul Junior is a pulpit-thumping conservative member of God’s Own Party. Their platform and dogma calls for having militarized cops shoot unarmed teenage potheads between the shoulderblades and forcing rightless sows to squeeze out piglets transformable first into brainwashed Lebensborn, then Hitlerjugend Crusader sojers, then militarized death squad police. It would actually be flattering to see nationalsocialist conservatives make an effort to send an infiltrator in an attempt to corrupt the LP, but this cowardly abortion ain’t that flattering attempt. The rest of the senate stands to learn from his example, but not the LP.

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  24. Marijuana is a very minor issue compared to everything else Rand is concerned about. Federal Debt. Wars overseas. Asset seizures. IRS & taxes.

    Marijuana is not the same drug it was 40 years ago. It has become a very dangerous drug. But yes, the drug war is a failure and should be ended. But we can’t end it as long as the CIA is bringing drugs into this country. First get the CIA out of the drug business and then end the drug war.

  25. To a certain extent, Paul is screwed either way. The Republican party is unfortunately much kinder to those who aren’t real conservatives on the economy (you know who I’m talking about) than those who aren’t social conservatives.

    That said, I kind of agree. Everyone hates Rand already. What’s he so scared of happening next? Unless his fake-socon stuff is just playing defense on his Senate election. Which would be understandable, but not acceptable.

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