The Rand Paul/Ron Paul Disconnect on Drugs

One of Ron Paul’s defining moments–vivid proof that this is a
very different kind of character we are dealing with here, in a
great way–was when, at the first 2012 cycle Republican
presidential candidate debate in May 2011
, he mocked the idea
that legalizing heroin was a terrible idea that would lead everyone
to do heroin.

“It’s amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a
spiritual way but not when it comes to our personal habits,” he
said, and advocating leaving drug policy to the states: “up until
this past century they were legal….How many people here would use
heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would!….’Oh yeah, I need
the government to take care of me, I don’t want to use heroin so I
need these laws.”

That boldness actually was a big applause line. It was a sea
change in what was possible in American politics, even if no one
has been bold enough to try to occupy the space Ron Paul

The Washington Post
writes yesterday
that Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul,
while making decent noises in a libertarian direction on drug
policy, isn’t bold enough to be a legalizer:

The younger Paul has long distanced himself from his father’s
pro-legalization stances. While campaigning for his father, Rand
defended the states-rights positions, but he has since made a point
to note that he does not personally favor the legalization of drugs
such as heroin and cocaine. He spent much of last
year assuring
 — who will be crucial in Iowa, New
Hampshire and much of the heartland in 2016 — that, when it came
to drugs, he was on their side.

But much of the Paul brand is built on the backs of the
Libertarian-leaning voters who buoyed his father’s presidential
bids, and Paul’s refusals in the past to voice support for
state-level legalization has earned him some
 from them. He
has, however, charted out a fairly libertarian — some might even
argue, liberal — position on drug sentencing reform, calling for
the walk-back of federal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent
drug offenses.

As 2016 inches closer, Paul may find himself increasingly tugged
in two directions. Thus far, Paul has toed the line —
supporting sentencing reform that is considered by many essential
to undoing the societal damage done by the war on drugs while
deliberately staying far away from his father’s states’ rights
crusades with regard to drugs.

I got the sense when
interviewing Paul last week and bringing up the topic
, even
about pot, that he’d rather not be pressed on what he really might
philosophically believe deep down in a perfect world on this topic,
but just wants to talk about the specific policies he’s actually
advocating as a legislator to ameliorate some of the worst effects
of the drug war, especially when it comes to sentencing and
industrial hemp. This certainly isn’t satisfying to full
legalizers, as Mike Riggs has written about for us

I’m not even sure, as Rand Paul seems to be, that avoiding
legalization head on will make him a more effective change agent
around the edges of the drug war, moving the goalposts of the
politically acceptable in a way that might make politician Rand
Paul of 2018 feel free to say some more interesting things about
the legality of drugs–just as Barack Obama has felt politically
freed to at least say sensible things about pot.

In the meantime, those who need a national politician who is
willing to mock heroin’s illegality can know that Rand Paul is not,
right now, their man.

from Hit & Run

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