Senator Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for President from Kentucky, sits down with editor-in-chief Dan Skye to discuss his views on cannabis and the War on Drugs.
Tell us your views on marijuana law reform.
I’ve always been a believer in individual freedom and that people should be left alone. If you’re not hurting anybody, it’s really nobody’s business what you’re doing. That’s been an underlying principle of most people who consider themselves to be Libertarian. They call it the “non-aggression principle”: if you’re not committing aggression against another individual, it’s really your business what you’re doing.
How should marijuana law reform be handled?
It’s a fundamental constitutional belief that, if you are going to classify something as right or wrong, or make something criminal or not criminal, it should be done at the state level – not at the federal level. When the Constitution was written, we had very few laws. But over time now we’ve criminalized everything. I mean it’s not just marijuana; we’ve criminalized a host of things that no one in their right mind would have believed that there would be a federal law against. The government’s getting large and so is the criminal justice system. As a consequence, we’ve got a lot of unjust sentences passed — people put in jail for 20-25 years. Very recently, a man got a life sentence you know for marijuana.
How far does decriminalization extend for you?
States should be allowed to do what they want to do and the federal government should not intervene.
Do you approve of marijuana being unscheduled, rather than be rescheduled to Schedule II, thereby allowing recreational use?
I would probably go a little farther on the scheduling than rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II. I would probably take it even lower than that. But I think that change has to come about incrementally. Colorado’s experiment and Washington’s experiment – I think you’re going to see other states follow that route. We’re going to go little steps at a time. But if you do believe in states’ rights, you do have the ability to adapt a little bit at a time. As people see it working in various states, then maybe that will encourage other states.
The War on Drugs has cost billions of dollars over the years. Many call it an utter failure. What’s your view?
I’m very much an opponent of the War on Drugs. Some of that stems from the federal government lording it over the states and forcing them to comply in the War on Drugs. I believe the War on Drugs is a real tragedy. I always thought the War on Drugs had gone too far incarcerating people. I read Michelle Alexander’s book Mass Incarceration. We’re becoming more and more aware of the racial disparities in arrests and in incarceration. In many cities, marijuana arrests are 15 times higher for black individuals than white. But if you look at surveys, black kids and white kids use marijuana about the same. The disparity in prison is about 4:1—black or brown inmates to white inmates. As I became more aware of the racial disparity, I became even more of an advocate for ending the War on Drugs.
Read the entire interview with Rand Paul in the March 2016 issue of High Times, on sale January 12, 2016.