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.
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 whole thing is a pretty embarrassing mischaracterization of the executive branch's critical role in setting national drug policy priorities. Heck, even the above paragraph points to Nixon as the protagonist in the story of how modern drug prohibition was born. Electing a president who is committed to correcting that mistake is one of the most powerful forward steps this movement can take, and this is true for several reasons that ought to be obvious:
- The president appoints the nation's top drug policy officials, including heads of the ONDCP (the Drug Czar) and the DEA, and can exert tremendous influence over their budgets and enforcement priorities.
- The president has the power to veto bad laws. If anyone is concerned about congress passing dumb anti-drug legislation in the future (a legitimate concern if ever one existed), they would be wise to support candidates who would reject our continued decent into endless drug war oblivion.
- The president can pressure congress to implement sensible reforms, including the passage of legislation to fix problems created by congress in the past. Not a walk in the park when it comes to drug policy, not even close, but technically true nevertheless, and certain to become critically important as the movement for drug policy reform continues its present momentum and exerts increasing influence over both the executive and legislative branches of government.
- The president has the loudest microphone on the planet and can use it to change the way people think about the issues facing our nation. This alone suffices to illustrate unequivocally why putting a marijuana reform advocate into the White House would be the greatest watershed moment in the history of this movement. One can't even begin to calculate all the ways in which the president's influence could be used to advance the cause of reform. I can’t believe it's even necessary to explain this, because honestly, when has anyone ever seriously suggested that the president's opinion on any matter of intense political debate was somehow irrelevant because the president lacks the powers of congress? That notion is too plainly absurd to justify further refutation.
- The mere act of electing a president who openly supports marijuana legalization or other drug policy reform positions makes a devastatingly powerful statement about the potency of those political ideas. This is known as the concept of a "mandate," wherein the electorate's choice of a certain candidate, particularly when made decisively, is seen as a message to our political culture that this candidate's platform reflects the values of the American people. When marijuana reform is included in that package, it speaks to the tone of the political climate on that issue and sends a message to congress that their constituents are ready to see real changes considered in a serious way.
All of these points, and I'm sure I missed several more, serve to illustrate why it is just stupid to even suggest that the president cannot serve as a powerful champion of marijuana legalization and other drug policy reforms. And yet, the assertions to which I respond here weren't leveled against the perceived front-runner in the republican primaries. All of these plainly farcical distortions of the president's power to influence national drug policy were directed at Ron Paul.
Ron Paul, though I know some will disagree or hope otherwise, is really a protest candidate, albeit a very popular and effective one. His goal is primarily to introduce into our political discourse ideas which he and his supporters feel have been unduly dismissed and disregarded by the political establishment. Ron Paul and his supporters already consider the campaign a success, because it's done exactly that.
His advocacy for the reform of marijuana laws ranks among the most popular aspects of his candidacy, resonating with his base of hardcore libertarian-minded supporters, while simultaneously piquing the interest of many on the left, who've been disgusted by Obama's brazen assault on medical marijuana. For anyone who cares about making long-term political progress on these issues, it makes absolute sense to cheer for the only candidate who is talking about it.
Publicly supporting politicians who publicly support marijuana reform is a necessary step towards demonstrating the political viability of the issue on a larger scale, so that future candidates for any elected office will have more reason to consider including this position in their platform. Simultaneously, the process of raising the profile of the debate over marijuana and other drug policy issues during a period of intense campaign season press coverage is an obvious and very effective way of marketing this idea to the public, increasingly support for it, and convincing future candidates to adopt it.
I really don’t know how much more completely one can misunderstand the significance of Ron Paul's marijuana advocacy than by arguing that it is pointless unless he A) gets elected President of the United States, and B) immediately legalizes marijuana throughout the nation. That is a standard so preposterous, so plainly unreasonable and bizarre, that, if taken seriously, it could call into question the importance of drug policy reform efforts in general. That's why I took this much time to respond, and why I hope Ron Paul's critics, regardless of their motives, will dispense with this particular brand of nonsense permanently.
Update: And, of course, there's also the president's power to pardon people for drug crimes. The president can just send anyone home from jail and erase their charges. That's kind if a big deal, yes?
(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)