Towards the end of the Le’Or Cannabis Seder for a New Drug Peace, Sunday night, I was asked by a fellow cannabis law reform advocate who I favored right now among presidential candidates. I thought about it for a bit, but when considering who seems to be currently in the running, I answered that I would have to go with Rand Paul. I think that my answer surprised some folks, but it wouldn’t surprise those that know me best. While I’m not a Rand Paul fanatic and my support for president could change depending upon various circumstances, particularly what happens on the Democratic side (Run, Elizabeth, run!). Now that Paul has officially entered the 2016 presidential race, I urge cannabis law reformers to tout his candidacy, at least during the GOP primary.
While I have a soft spot for Republican/Libertarian Gary Johnson, Rand Paul has the best chance of winning of any major marijuana law reform candidate and, even if you couldn’t stand to vote for a Republican in the general election, Paul’s sensible stance on cannabis issues should provide political cover for the Democratic candidate to at least be as good as Paul on the issue, if not even better. And if Paul wins the GOP nomination, or has a very respectable showing, he could influence future Republican candidates to embrace the issue, particularly with young GOP members overwhelmingly supporting marijuana legalization.
Paul understands that the Republican Party must expand its base of supporters beyond just older, white men. If he can influence his party to embrace new ideas that appeal to younger voters and people of color, I think that our country will be less polarized and better off in the long run. We need to get away from the “My Team vs. Your Team” mentality and focus on issues that we can all agree on. Marijuana law reform and broader criminal justice reform has now become an issue that can appeal across demographics and the political spectrum. From The Washington Post:
“White, black, brown, rich, poor, with tattoos and without tattoos, with earrings and without earrings,” Paul told a room packed full of young people in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md. “We need to take our message where it’s not been before.”
On Capitol Hill, Paul has been known for his unlikely alliances with Democrats. He has co-authored bills on reforming the criminal justice system with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and legalizing medical marijuana with Booker and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Criminal justice reform has become one of Paul’s signature issues, and he has been using it, and a plan to boost economic investment in Detroit, to try to make inroads with black voters.
“There is still significant segregation in our society,” Paul said last month at Bowie State University, a traditionally black university in Maryland.
Paul isn’t hiding his positions either as his presidential website (www.RandPaul2016) prominently embraces the CARERS Act, the landmark federal medical marijuana bill that he co-sponsored with Democrats Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as the Redeem Act to reform our criminal justice system (also co-sponsored by Booker). Paul’s stances and ability to influence other presidential candidates has certainly caught the eye of prominent cannabis law reform advocates. From The Hill:
“His message on marijuana reform is going to be very attractive to young people and communities of color,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s definitely going to force Hillary Clinton, or whoever is the Democratic nominee, toward that direction, because they’ll be worried about losing their base.”
“We have never really seen a major presidential contender make this a signature piece of their platform before Rand Paul,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority.
“Marijuana clearly has arrived as an issue at the forefront of mainstream American politics,” Angell said. “The fact that Rand Paul is speaking out about this, and that he’s being praised and not criticized for it, is setting an example for other politicians.”
I know that I will have many debates with friends and colleagues over the 2016 presidential election and that I love and care for many people who will be unlikely to support Paul for a variety of reasons. However, I urge everyone that cares about ending marijuana prohibition, larger criminal justice reform and civil liberties in general, to at least acknowledge that Rand Paul is the best Republican candidate for these issues. You can support Hillary Clinton, or whoever the Democratic nominee may be, or go third-party if you want, but I urge civil libertarians to support Paul during the Republican primary. I wholeheartedly feel that marijuana law reformers should stand with Rand Paul…at least for now.