Surprise! Republican Senator Rand Paul Praises Eric Holder On Drug Policy

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Speaking in Iowa on Friday, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) offered unexpected praise for outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The Senator applauded Holder’s approach to drug enforcement policy. Specifically, Paul agreed that Holder was right to end support for letting police seize the assets of suspected drug dealers, who have not been charged with a crime. The Senator added that jailing people for “55 years for selling marijuana is obscene”.

The mention of 55 years was an apparent reference to Weldon Angelos, who was convicted of selling marijuana while in possession of a firearm in 2004. Mandatory minimum enhancements for possessing a firearm while selling drugs lead to the lengthy sentence, even though the gun was not brandished during the drug transactions, and the drug in question was simply marijuana.

Senator Paul, who is often very critical of the government, seems an unlikely person to defend Holder. Holder has served as Obama’s top federal law enforcement official since the President took office in 2009. During his tenure, Holder has frequently aroused the ire of conservatives. In this context, Senator Paul’s comments carry added weight by bridging the liberal-conservative divide.

Politics sometimes creates strange bedfellows. Rand Paul saying something positive about Obama’s chief law enforcement officer is a pretty unusual event, in the current polarized political environment. However, the realization that Rand Paul and Eric Holder can find common ground on pushing towards a more sane national marijuana policy does portend hope for eventually putting an end to the ill-conceived War on Drugs.

The prospects for reforming national drug policy are somewhat promising since the issue doesn’t fall strictly on partisan lines. A significant faction within both major parties seems willing to consider exploring changes to the nation’s drug laws. Voter passed experiments in Colorado and Washington, have demonstrated that marijuana legalization does not lead to economic collapse or moral ruin. Both states are doing just fine.

It should come as no surprise that the libertarian-leaning Rand Paul supports less draconian drugs laws. What is surprising is that he is willing to give somebody in the Obama administration credit for holding similar views. That small moment of recognition could be helpful in uniting members of both parties to put partisan politics aside, in order to work towards a saner drug policy for America. The incarceration model clearly isn’t working, and every step made to replace that model is a step forward.

Keith Brekhus

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