Opinion: Why Rand Paul Is Becoming More Interesting

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Rand Paul is hot, as in popular, but the liberals who write about him are hot for a different reason. That’s right, I said the ‘liberals’ who write about him. They are hot for any story they believe splits the conservative ranks, which is why Paul’s critical comments about the call for war with Iran and Dick Cheney’s so-called profiteering have gotten so much ink.

If the nation’s top cop and three of the past presidents have all smoked pot, how can we justify imprisoning a young, poor American for doing essentially the same thing?

— Rick Sanchez

The fact that Paul, as an avowed non-hawkish Republican Senator from Kentucky, can remain extremely popular among many conservatives is much less newsworthy than the mainstream news media would portend.

In fact, the more important recent harangue from Paul, which has gotten less attention, is about decriminalizing marijuana. Paul wants to push the GOP toward a more realistic approach because he doesn’t want young people’s lives to go to pot because of pot. “I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives,” says Paul.

Paul’s push seems to have picked up steam this week. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has just signed a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana starting October 1st. The legislation would take away the mandatory minimums of any possession arrests for less than a third of an ounce of cannabis.

O’Malley says he’s doing so begrudgingly. Tired of putting up with questions and an inconsistent enforcement policy, he seems to be throwing in the towel if for no other reason than to give law enforcement officials more important things to do.

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Marijuana decriminalization is a hot button issue again. And when I say again, I mean isn’t it ALWAYS? But two things happened this week that seemed to push decriminalization even further into the national spotlight: the new Maryland law and, soon after, a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder revealing that he too smoked pot while in college. Think about it! The nation's top law enforcement official has just announced that he broke the law by imbibing in marijuana.

So here’s the obvious query: if the nation’s top cop and three of the past presidents have all smoked pot, how can we justify imprisoning a young, poor American for doing essentially the same thing? Is there a reasonable answer to that question? Anybody?

By the way, what defines marijuana users who end up in jail has less to do with race and ethnicity than does income level. Fact is the poorer you are, the less apt you are to clear yourself of the charge that could keep you from becoming an Attorney General or yes.... (smile)... even President.

Then there’s the question of going beyond decriminalization toward legalization. As a fiscal conservative, it’s hard to not appreciate the Colorado model that appears to have both tourism and tax revenues from pot booming.

According to a Reuters, Colorado “expects to bring in an estimated $98 million in revenue this year, exceeding the state's original expectations by 40 percent.”  In a month and a half Washington State will join Colorado and all eyes will be on their revenue stream as well.

Uruguay passed laws in 2012 legalizing marijuana and also set up state-controlled sales of up to 40 grams from the government. (Or four times the decriminalized amount that Maryland’s bill allows.) Users of course have to be at least 18 years of age, and must register with a federal database. Uruguay’s impetus for the law: why let ‘narcotraficantes’ walk away with the spoils of an industry that could benefit the Uruguayan citizens to the tune of billions of dollars?

It’s questions like that one that make it harder and harder to define the conservative position on the general issue of marijuana — and that may parallel why with each passing day Rand Paul is becoming if not more appealing to conservatives, at least more interesting.