As if the promise to dismantle most of the Washington-based government wasn’t enough, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has also made waves in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination with his maverick stance on drug policy.
During his 30 years in the House of Representatives, Paul has authored and co-authored multiple marijuana-friendly bills. He’s proposed laws to decriminalize marijuana, permit industrial hemp farming, and constitutionally delegate to states how to enforce extant medical marijuana.
None of these bills have ever been heard in committee. Nonetheless, Paul’s drug war bona fides are earning him admirers among liberals who note that Paul is the only candidate to remotely approach the two points necessary to end the Drug War: Repealing, or at least amending, the Controlled Substances Act, and a rescheduling of marijuana within the DEA’s pantheon of forbidden fruits.
A growing number of marijuana activists are embracing Paul as a pot-friendly alternative to President Barack Obama, whose Justice Department has done more to dismantle state-legal medical marijuana than George W. Bush’s crew ever did.
These supporters ignore a key point: If Paul were president, he wouldn’t be any better for legalizing marijuana than President Obama — or worse than Romney or Santorum. And as recently as Monday’s debate in South Carolina, Paul had this to say about ending the Drug War: “I don’t think we can do a whole lot about it.”
Marijuana was criminalized by the feds in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed by Congress (under pressure from Richard M. Nixon’s administration). Only Congress can repeal an act of Congress, just as only Congress can amend the Constitution, raise taxes, and wage war (legally).
The federally subsidized war on marijuana can end if the CSA remains, as long as marijuana is dropped from Schedule I, the list of the most dangerous drugs, to Schedule II (which includes cocaine) or lower. Through the CSA, the general public can directly petition the Attorney General to do this. Theoretically, the president could issue an executive order unilaterally urging the Attorney General to do this, but to do so would be “an extension of executive power,” according to Robert Smith, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University.
Earlier this month, Stephen DeAngelo, the founder and CEO of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center — the nation’s largest cannabis dispensary and the subject of the Discovery Channel documentary series Weed Wars — made noise of his own when he suggested to the Huffington Post that pot activists should vote Republican. “We are single-issue voters,” said DeAngelo, whose comments were followed by the Justice Department’s extension into Colorado of the crackdown on state-legal medical cannabis that’s been ongoing in California since September. Surely a Republican cannot be worse?
DeAngelo isn’t supporting Paul or any other Republican, or at least not yet, he told us during a recent interview with SF Weekly. “Millions of us are looking for the right place to put our vote,” DeAngelo said. While other marijuana activists like South Lake Tahoe-based Steve Kubby, author of one of the marijuana legalization voter initiatives vying for a spot on Californians’ November 2012 ballots, have thrown their weight behind Paul, DeAngelo says he’d prefer to back Obama as he did in 2008. “I’m waiting and hoping that he does the right thing and comes to our defense,” he said. “I’m not going to vote for someone who thinks I’m a criminal and should be in prison.”
During Monday night’s GOP debate, “drugs” was mentioned once, when liberal Fox News analyst Juan Williams noted that black people in South Carolina are jailed at four times the rate of white people for nonviolent drug offenses. He then asked Paul what he’d do to stop this. Perhaps amazingly, Paul used his precious response time to agree with the premise of Williams’ question before punting the answer.
Here’s the entire exchange.
WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul. An analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that blacks who are jailed at four times the rate of whites in South Carolina are most often convicted on drug offenses. Do you see racial disparities in drug-related arrests and convictions as a problem? And if so, how would you fix it?
PAUL: Yes. Definitely. There is a disparity. It’s not that it is my opinion, it is very clear. Blacks and minorities who are involved with drugs, are arrested disproportionately. They are tried and imprisoned disproportionately. They suffer the consequence of the death penalty disproportionately. Rich white people don’t get the death penalty very often.
And most of these are victimless crimes. Sometimes, people can use drugs and [are] arrested three times and never committed a violent act, and they can go to prison for life. And yet we see times just recently we heard where actually murders get out of prison in shorter periods of time. So I think it’s way — way disproportionate.
I don’t think we can do a whole lot about it. I think there’s discrimination in the system, but you have to address the drug war. You know, the drug war is — is very violent on our borders. We have the immigration problem, and I’m all for having, you know, tight immigration policies, but we can’t ignore the border without looking at the drug war.
In the last five years, 47,500 people died in the drug war down there. This is a major thing going on. And it unfairly hits the minorities.
This is one thing I am quite sure that Martin Luther King would be in agreement with me on this. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther King he would be in agreement with me on the wars, as well, because he was a strong opponent to the Vietnam War.
So I — I — I would say, yes, the judicial system is probably one of the worst places where — where prejudice and — and discrimination still exists in this country.
What, then, is a marijuana-minded voter to do? The safe money appears to be on a Romney-Obama showdown in November, and Romney has vowed to fight medical marijuana “tooth and nail.” It appears a cannabis supporter can vote Libertarian, or support the man who’s presided over the biggest crackdown in medical pot’s brief history, hunker down and hope for the best.