Rand Paul: Don’t Send Kids to Jail for Drug Use

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 24 2013 1:32 PM

Rand Paul: People Shouldn’t Smoke Pot, But They Shouldn’t Go To Jail for Non-Violent Drug Crimes

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"There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes and that's a huge mistake," Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on Fox News Sunday.

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Liberals are likely scratching their heads today, wondering how a man with whom they disagree on so many things could have uttered such sensible views when it comes to drug policy and the criminal justice system in the United States. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that while he doesn’t want to legalize drugs, he also doesn’t think people should spend time behind bars for non-violent drug crimes. Paul’s statement came on the heels of a bill he introduced with Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, that would give judges greater flexibility in adhering to mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, notes the Washington Post.

While arguing against mandatory minimum sentences for smoking pot, Paul pointed out that both President Bush and President Obama could have seen their lives destroyed by marijuana-related arrests, reports the Hill. “Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use,” Paul said. “Look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys. They go to jail for these things. And I think it’s a big mistake.” Host Chris Wallace replied with a laugh: "Actually, I think it would be the last three presidents, but who's counting?" (Watch video of Paul’s interview after the jump.)

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Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress writes that Democrats need to take “very, very seriously” the fact that “one of America’s most radical ideologues” is moving ahead with an “effort to outflank them on drug policy.” Paul clearly believes that taking a more liberal stance on drug issues could help him appeal to young people, independents, and moderates. And he’s right. Polls have shown that two-thirds of Americans under 30 favor legalization of marijuana. Paul is right on policy too, adds Millhiser, but “if Democrats cannot be moved to think sensibly on drugs because it is the right thing to do, the least they could do is think sensibly on drugs because it is in their selfish political interests to do so.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.