Sen. Rand Paul: States Should Be Allowed To Legalize Marijuana

Since two states passed ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the logistical question remains of exactly how federal officials will respond, when it is still illegal federally. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), have urged the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency to back down from enforcement in Washington and Colorado.

In an interview with ABC, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he does not favor federal legalization of marijuana, but finds its legal penalties too harsh:

“States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions,” Paul says. “I want things to be decided more at a local basis, with more compassion. I think it would make us as Republicans different.” […]

“I think for example we should tell young people, ‘I’m not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don’t want to put you in jail for 20 years,'” Paul says.

Public support for marijuana legalization is at a record-high 50 percent, according to a Gallup poll last year. But in 2010, there were more than 853,000 marijuana-related arrests, 750,000 for mere possession. Of more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., more than 500,000 are drug offenders, with African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately impacted. In Colorado, for example, even though African Americans and Latinos make up 3.8 percent and 19 percent of the population, they accounted for 10 to 25 percent of marijuana possession arrests.