What Would President Ron Paul's Drug Policy Look Like?

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The congressman's libertarian beliefs extend to the issues of harm reduction, drug testing, and the rehabilitation of repeat drug offenders.

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The average person knows that Ron Paul has an interesting take on almost every issue -- including modern drug policy. The specifics of his beliefs, however, are less well-known, which is where I come in. Below, I detail the different drugs-related legislation that Paul has sponsored or supported and examine various statements he has made about drugs during his 24 years in politics.

Ron Paul is a conservative libertarian, interested in limiting government and promoting individual liberties. His ideological bent translates into some of the most radical platforms of all the Republican candidates. His "Plan to Restore America" pledges to cut $1 trillion in spending during his first year as president, as well as to eliminate all the inefficient government programs that infringe upon our civil liberties.

Unlike every other Republican candidate (and unlike the current president), Representative Paul believes that the war on drugs has been a monumental failure and should be eliminated. Essentially, Paul loves liberty as much as he hates the war on drugs. In 2000, he was one of the 15 members of the Republican Liberty Caucus to endorse a position statement condemning the war on drugs. As demonstrated in this 2001 House floor speech, he believes not only that the drug war inherently abuses the Bill of Rights, but also that, as a federal response to drug use and abuse, it creates more problems than it solves, including "encourage[ing] violence" both at home and abroad. Paul has also made the claim that a "compassionate conservative" like himself could not support an ineffective program that fails to recognize that "drug addiction is a medical problem ... not a problem of the law." Demonstrating that "compassion," in 2008, Paul was the only Republican to support an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would have repealed the Act's original provisions prohibiting the awarding of federal financial aid to students previously convicted of a drug offense.

In a 2011 Republican primary debate, Paul argued that the drug war drives our immigration policy, which is enabling our government to "kill thousands and thousands of people." And in both the 2008 and 2012 primaries, he has consistently called the drug war a racist program that discriminates against inner-city minorities. In fact, Paul has been reiterating this statement since his Presidential campaign in 1988.

Doctor Ron Paul has stood strong against the international drug war not only in rhetoric, but in voting record. In 2001, Paul voted no on an amendment within H.R. 2586 that would have established a task force on counter-terrorism and drug prohibition and allowed military personnel to patrol our borders. He also voted against the Merida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act (H.R. 6028, 2008), which promised financial assistance to Mexico to combat drug trafficking. The presidential hopeful has also commented that our drug policy negatively influences how the federal and state governments handle other international issues.

So you want to end the war on drugs ... what now? Well, Paul would suggest that the first (and only!) thing for the federal government to do is to relieve itself of any legislative authority. Then the states can assume authority over drug legislation. And as discerning Points readers no doubt are aware, Paul has argued that it is not particularly necessary for states to prohibit drug use. In the 2011 South Carolina debate, Paul commented that American citizens do not need the government to tell them not to do drugs like heroin, because most of them would not engage in such activity even if it was legal.

Again, Paul's record accords with his campaign positions. Concerning the legalization of marijuana at the federal level, in 2005 Paul sponsored and introduced legislation (H.R. 3037) that would amend the Controlled Substances Act by disaggregating industrial hemp from "marijuana" and thus allowing the states to regulate hemp farming. To the dismay of Woody Harrelson and other hemp advocates, the resolution was cleared from the books after sitting stagnant for some time in the House Subcommittee on Health. In addition to supporting hemp, Paul also believes in legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. In 2001, he co-sponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (H.R. 2592) with Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.). The Paul-Frank partnership continued into 2008 when they co-sponsored the Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults (H.R. 5843), which also failed to move out of Congressional committees. Furthermore, Paul has criticized the current treatment of medical marijuana facilities by the federal government, specifically speaking out against federal raids of medical marijuana dispensaries. These he has called unconstitutional, and has pledges that he will refuse to authorize them when he is president. And all of this is a matter of political principle: While Paul is an ardent supporter of the legalization of marijuana, he has never engaged in the illicit activity.

Paul's libertarian beliefs extend to the issues of harm reduction, drug testing, and rehabilitation of drug offenders. While in 1999 Paul co-sponsored legislation that would ban federal funding for needle-exchange, 10 years later he updated his position and voted for the Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act, which specifically funded the same programs. There is little information that explains his change of heart, but noting that his initial opposition to harm reduction occurred during the time in which he was publishing incredibly offensive material about African Americans, gays, and urban populations generally in his newsletter may help us better understand his '90s mindset.

Concerning drug testing, Paul voted no on a 1998 amendment to H.R. 4550 that would have subjected federal employees to random drug tests. And while he has neither officially opposed nor supported drug testing welfare recipients, it is reasonable to assume that he would oppose the tests -- along with the welfare itself. Paul's distaste for our "welfare state" is aptly demonstrated not only in his 1990 suggestion that New York City be named "Welfaria," but also in this statement from a 2011 Republican primary debate: "It is not authorized in the Constitution for us to run a welfare state. And it doesn't work out."

Image: Brian Snyder/Reuters.


This article originally appeared on Points, an Atlantic partner site.

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Kelsey Harclerode is a research assistant at the University of Florida and a former staff assistant for U.S. Senator George LeMieux of Florida.

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