There was a conservative guy I knew, who, when I brought up gay marriage, he would always try and dodge the question by saying “it should be decided by the states.” I then brought up my cousin, who is in a committed relationship with a woman from Spain. Were they a straight couple, her immigration status would be fairly clear cut-they get married and she would get a green card and a path to citizenship. However, while she did eventually get a green card, it was a long and tenuous process that involved them living on the other side of the country for years. This conservative never gave me an answer as to whether or not my cousin’s family should get the same treatment as a straight couple would.
I bring this up because the common consensus is “Rand Paul wants to end the drug war.” His stance over allowing decriminalization was brought up in his speech to Howard University as an example of minority outreach. A common libertarian line used against Obama and the Democrats is they want to end the Drug War, which has been overwhelmingly harmful to minority communities, while the Democrats want to keep it going. However, that’s only part of the story.
There are two big flaws in the Rand Paul plan to decriminalize drugs. The first is Senator Paul is calling merely for an end to federal involvement in the drug war. In his world, states would be allowed to make their own decisions.
While he has called for a more compassion with regards to drug sentencing, leaving it to states would create a whole mess of trouble. It doesn’t seem particularly fair if California and New York become Amsterdam while Paul’s own Kentucky keeps drugs illegal. It also would raise some questions-what would the standard be for regulating and taxing narcotics? What about moving them across state lines? Suppose a flight from San Francisco to New York made an emergency landing in a state where drugs are illegal, would passengers who brought drugs be arrested? Could the state’s Air National Guard scramble fighter jets to bring down the plane? The reason we have a national government is to sort these things out.
The second issue goes to the reason he got into so much trouble in 2010-his belief about government regulation of the private sector. If you remember, he got into trouble for claiming the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have infringed on private businesses that discriminated. So, even if drugs were legal in all 50 states, what about companies who forbade drug use outside of work? What if all the companies in the US got together and fired anyone who smoked weed outside of work? What if they only fired black or Hispanic employees who did this but not white ones? What if they chose to use it as a firing offense on libertarians but not liberals? Paul has stated he doesn’t want the federal government interfering with business practices. It doesn’t seem particularly liberating if you can’t get a job merely because you smoke weed.
If Paul wants to work with other lawmakers to deal with our absurd War On Drugs, I’m all for it. However, it should be noted if you think marijuana is a substance less harmful than alcohol and should be taxed and regulated as such while more harmful narcotics should be dealt with as a health issue and not a criminal one, Paul is not on the same page-like everything else, he just doesn’t want the federal government involved.