Today, Republican Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) announced that he will be running for president in the 2016 election. Senator Paul is poised to become the first presidential candidate from either party to make marijuana reform a significant campaign issue.
Senator Paul has been a major voice behind the marijuana movement. He has argued that states should be allowed to adopt their own marijuana policies without the fear of federal interference.
Involvement with medical marijuana
In March, Senator Paul introduced a bipartisan bill, with Democratic Senators Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), which would effectively end the federal ban on medical marijuana and implement a series of reforms.
Senator Paul has also been a strong supporter of the industrial hemp industry. In 2014, he played a key role in the Senate’s passage of legislation that would allow states to grow hemp for research.
Aside for his pro-marijuana stance, Senator Paul thinks that the nation needs to reform its overall policies on illegal drugs. He has been a major critic of the decades-long prison sentences for the sale or possession of marijuana. Senator Paul has referred to these policies as “ridiculous.”
His position on these important topics have led to him receiving favorable recognition from members of the pro-marijuana movement. This could help Senator Paul draw young, libertarian voters to his brand and build the case that he is the best GOP candidate for the 2016 election.
Republicans are split on marijuana
Legal marijuana is not widely accepted by the Republican Party and last month, it was a hot topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). CPAC is usually attended by young conservative activists who live in the Washington D.C area.
One organization conducted a straw poll at CPAC and the asked various questions to participants. One of the questions that was asked pertained to legal marijuana. Around two-thirds of the 3,000 people who participated in the poll said that they want to see marijuana legalized for either recreational or medicinal purposes
Senator Paul’s position on marijuana may hurt his chances because his views are not in line with older, more conservative Republicans. Many older voters still have strong reservations about marijuana. Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser to John McCain in 2008, thinks that this could be a significant hurdle for Paul in the primaries.
“Older Republican voters are not exactly ecstatic about the idea of legalizing marijuana,” O’Connell said.
Times are changing.
Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and the District of Columbia have all passed measures legalizing marijuana. Many marijuana advocates think that Paul is well positioned to benefit from the momentum behind marijuana reform.
“We have never really seen a major presidential contender make this a signature piece of their platform before Rand Paul,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority.
“I think they were sort of afraid of this issue,” he added. “It was marginalized, even laughed at; it wasn’t respected as a serious issue.”
We are excited about Senator Paul’s announcement and we think that he will focus on some of the issues that would not otherwise get much coverage. We would not be surprised if major marijuana reform legislation was passed before the election so the Republican Party could have the candidate of their choosing run for president.