Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate (once with the Libertarian Party and twice with the Republicans), has been called the “intellectual godfather” of the Tea Party. Politically, Paul often frustrates both sides of the aisle, as several of his core principles can feasibly appeal to either the far left or the far right. He is also a staunch opponent of the Drug War and supports the legalization not only of marijuana, but of all drugs.
In 1961, Paul graduated Duke University as a doctor of medicine specializing in obstetrics and gynecology; he is said to have delivered over 4,000 babies and has described himself as “an unshakable foe of abortion.” Later in the 1960s, he served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force and the Air National Guard. He entered politics in the 1970s, shortly after the so-called “Nixon Shock,” when then-President Richard M. Nixon cancelled America’s participation in the Bretton Woods monetary system, ending the dollar’s ability to be converted into gold.
Economically, Paul believes in fiscal conservatism, free trade and abolishing the Federal Reserve. In the 1980s, he left the GOP and joined the Libertarian Party in response to Ronald Reagan’s doubling of the national debt. He is a critic of both neoconservatism and America’s foreign interventions around the globe.
Now retired from politics, Paul spoke with HIGH TIMES on the occasion of his recently launched “digital bully pulpit,” Voices of Liberty.
In the promotional materials for your new website, it says that you’re “suddenly embracing technology to amplify the liberty movement.” I was curious about the word “suddenly.”
I wonder who put that word in there … probably somebody in PR. It’s not the way I would describe it—I’ve been talking about technology for a long, long time. I don’t hardly ever give a speech where I don’t talk about the Internet and everything else—and technology is what’s going to allow us to compete with the government propaganda.
You recently came out as a supporter of Edward Snowden. Why is that?
Well, mainly because I’m looking for the facts, and our government, I believe, distorts the facts. I’ve been particularly interested in foreign policy—I remember the Vietnam War, and I was in the service for five years—and we generally find out by whistleblowers [such as Daniel Ellsberg] that, in reality, our government concocted that whole thing [i.e., the Gulf of Tonkin incident] and over 50,000 Americans died. And that’s rather annoying.
And then being in Congress in the lead-up to the Iraq War, the lies that were told … everybody knows they were lies, and yet a lot of human suffering came from that. So anybody who’s willing to come forth and risk their own life and reputation to try to give us the story, as Edward Snowden did, I think they’re very loyal people and should be recognized as such. I mean, we kind of pretend that we like whistleblowers, and the Congress offers them rewards and protection if they’ll come forward, yet for the most part whistleblowers end up in big trouble. The CIA agent [John Kiriakou] that released the information to show how bad the torture was that was going on at Guantánamo—he ended up in prison. So I’m all in support of people who will try to reveal the truth to the people.
Were you the only Republican who voted against the Iraq War?
No, there were six of us, and it turned out it was three conservatives and three who would be considered moderates. We had different reasons, but the rest of them went along with it. Neoconservatives are pretty domineering in Congress—they had pretty strong control, and they still do. And that’s why you’re hearing all the war talk now and the threats directed toward Russia. It seems like they’re so insecure, they have to have a war going on all the time.
Would you say that the current situation in Iraq was predictable—that there eventually would be a civil war once we took out the power structure that existed there?
Oh, yeah, I think that was predictable. It was difficult to take that position [at the time], because it meant “You support Saddam Hussein.” Right now, I talk about minding our own business and stop jumping to conclusions and trying to stir up a fight with Russia, and they say, “Oh, Ron Paul is Putin’s best friend.” I mean, when I was in the presidential debates and trying to explain the facts, they said, “Oh, you take your orders from Osama bin Laden.” So, yes, I think it was verypredictable.
I had speeches where I said, “Watch out for terrorism” [as a result of US foreign interventions], because the phenomenon of blowback was well known and had been written about: The CIA explained it, and it’s been going on for a long time. Actually, some of the blowback we have now with Iran started as a consequence of us overthrowing their government in 1953. So there are consequences—long-term military consequences—that are very real. You don’t know exactly when and where and at what time it will happen, but there’s a lot of resentment built up because of us throwing our weight around. And as long as we’re the most powerful nation and the richest nation, we think we can get away with it. But I think that’s starting to shift—and that’s why we’re going to be living in a more dangerous situation.
Let me ask you about foreign policy a little closer to home: Do you see a solution to the drug violence in Mexico? And are we the ones who are ultimately responsible for it?
Well, we certainly cause a lot of it. You know, the drug laws, I would just do away with them, because it’s the prohibition of drug use that creates the drug gangs and the whole [black-market] method of buying and selling drugs. So the drug gangs on the border are a consequence of our laws. The border problems are a little more complex than that, but that is a major factor in the problem: our drug laws.
But I think things are changing very, very gradually. I’ve taken a very strong position against these laws. Nobody thought I could get elected in the Bible belt as a Republican conservative, and yet people listened to me and didn’t see it as a threat. And now look—especially because of the [changing views on marijuana], those people are saying that the drug laws don’t make any sense! So we’re really practicing a form of nullification, with the states just going about their business and changing the law and the federal government being forced to give up on it. And I think that’s very, very good.
It doesn’t mean that all drugs are going to be legal soon. They tried prohibition against alcohol and it was a disaster, and they then followed up with marijuana, so this stuff is going to be repealed. But that’s not going to end the Drug War on our borders—it may slow it up a little bit, because [marijuana’s] a major import. But I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Also, I don’t deal with it as a drug issue; I deal with it as a freedom-of-choice and self-responsibility issue. Everybody gets to make their own choices, and they should suffer the consequences of what they do in regards to their personal habits as well as their economic activities. That’s why I’ve been so interested in this issue, and have worked a long time with people like [former Senator] Barney Frank and others to try and get these laws changed.
Do you believe, as President Obama said recently, that marijuana laws are a states’ rights issue, or do you believe the federal government should legalize pot across the board?
Well, they should just butt out—they shouldn’t have been able to make it illegal [in the first place]. The government should be out of that business; they shouldn’t have anything to say about it. So it’s not so much that states are legalizing—marijuana should have been naturally legal. It’s sort of like everybody has a right to drink raw milk, and then the government comes in and says, “Oh, no—only under our conditions.” Under the Constitution, if a state made alcohol or marijuana illegal, it was not meant to be a federal issue. But that isn’t the way it came about, you know: The federal government started writing the laws and enforcing the laws and causing all the trouble.
As the legalization of marijuana gains further acceptance—I think we’re nationally above 50 percent now in support of legalization for recreational use—do you see more conservatives embracing this issue? Or are the so-called social conservatives still too powerful a voice for mainstream conservatives to embrace legalization?
Well, there’s always going to be some in the resistance, but it certainly has changed. Even when we had votes over the years to soften the laws on marijuana, many of [the social conservatives] agreed with me, but they were like, “Huh-uh, I can’t do that in my district—I’d be out in no time!” Because it would be held against them.
But you’re talking politics, and now the majority of people are more open to the idea, so these politicians are going to feel more secure about [supporting marijuana-law reform]—even those who believe there should be laws [against pot]. If they thought they had to vote a certain way, they would yield to the pressure in their district, they would shift—and that’s why it’s so important to put this pressure on the politicians.
In your view as a longtime member of Congress, what role do corporate interests—industries like, say, the prison industry or the pharmaceutical industry—have in crafting American drug policy?
Oh, I think the drug companies are especially powerful, you know, and there are interests … take the marijuana thing: I’m sure the alcohol industry has an interest in keeping it illegal. The private prison industry? Yeah, they like lots of prisons, so they’re very influential. They never bothered with me, because they knew I wouldn’t pay any attention to them. But money’s a big deal, and the drug industry especially—they were behind the prescription-drug programs that the Republicans loved. So there is always this financial interest that’s very much involved, and it’s very influential in Washington, there’s no doubt about it.
But how does it work? Are lobbyists donating money to congressmen … ?
Yeah, that is it, and they just do a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff with [congressional] staff as well as with the members and their districts. If [these interests] can get various districts to support something, then they can orchestrate that. So if there’s a voting bloc, then there’s the threat: “Well, you better not cross us, because we’re going to get somebody to run against you next time.” So the member usually caves in.
Now that the laws regarding marijuana are changing, what do you think should happen to all the people who have been imprisoned under the old laws?
Well, I took a very strong position on that in the presidential race: I’d let ’em all go. I’d pardon everybody who was in prison for a nonviolent drug crime. Those who went overboard and committed crimes of violence, they need to stay in prison. But especially if it was personal use and that person was put in prison—or there was the tragedy of them going to prison for life because it was their third strike, even though they had never committed a violent crime—that is atrocious activity by our government. So I’d pardon them … and save some money, too.