Colorado won’t be picking a Republican presidential candidate at its caucus next year, but that didn’t stop a handful of the party’s White House hopefuls from picking on Colorado during Wednesday night’s second national Republican debate. Four of them duked it out over state and federal pot laws, including one top-tier candidate who admitted to doing drugs, and another who said she had a child die from drug addiction.
It all started when CNN’s moderator Jake Tapper quizzed Rand Paul about a recent remark from his New Jersey rival.
“Governor Christie recently said, ‘If you’re getting high in Colorado today … enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana,’” Tapper said. “Will you?”
The Kentucky senator used the opportunity to talk about the hypocrisy of well-off white people in America getting a pass on pot laws – and then called out one of his opponents for getting away with smoking dope.
“There’s at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school, and yet the people who are going to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t,” Paul said.
A libertarian, Paul said pot smokers only hurt themselves, and that he’d rather see more rehabilitation and drug courts than people being thrown in jail for toking up. America’s war on drugs has had a racial outcome, he said, damaging inner cities and filling the country’s prisons.
“I don’t think that the federal government should override the states,” Paul said. “I believe in the 10th Amendment, and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.”
Tapper asked Paul if he wanted to name the hypocrite on stage. Paul said he’d rather keep the question open and see if anyone else might want to cop to it.
That’s when Jeb Bush chimed in.
“He was talking about me,” said the former Florida governor who opposed a ballot measure for medical marijuana in his home state last year.
“Forty years ago I smoked marijuana, and I admit it,” Bush said. “I’m sure that other people might have done it but may not want to say it in front of 25 million people — my mom’s not happy that I just did.”
Bush went on to say, however, that what goes on in Colorado “should be a state decision.”
Paul turned the debate to medical marijuana, specifically cannabis oil that could help children who suffer from seizures. Bush countered that the medical marijuana ballot measure he voted against in Florida had a “huge loophole” and was “the first step toward getting to a Colorado place.”
For his part, Gov. Chris Christie said New Jersey is the first state where nonviolent, non-dealing drug users don’t go to jail but rather go to mandatory treatment for a first offense. But the former U.S. attorney who called the war on drugs “a failure” took issue with Paul’s take on pot smoking being a federal crime that’s only victim is the user.
“Look at the decrease of productivity, look at the way people … move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug,” Christie said. “It’s not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also, and that’s why I’ll enforce the federal law while you can still put an emphasis on rehabilitation.”
Paul shot back that what Christie was saying is that he would “go into Colorado, and if you’re breaking any federal law on marijuana, even though the state law allows it, he would put you in jail,” including a young mother trying to give her child cannabis oil for seizure treatment.
“I would let Colorado do what the 10th Amendment says,” Paul said, adding that crime was supposed to be left to the states. “Colorado has made their decision, and I don’t want the federal government interfering and putting moms in jail who are simply trying to get medicine for their kid.”
Christie said Paul wasn’t being truthful and that New Jersey had medical marijuana laws that Christie supported and implemented.
“This is not medical marijuana. This goes a much further step beyond,” Christie said. “This is recreational use of marijuana. This is much different. So while he’d like to use a sympathetic story to back up his point, it doesn’t work. I’m not against medical marijuana— we do it in New Jersey— but I am against the recreational use of marijuana. If he wants to change the federal law, get Congress to pass a law to change it and get a president to sign it.”
That line of pro-pot opposition led Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the only woman on the stage, to say she and her husband had buried a child to drug addiction. And while she said she agreed with Paul on states rights, she has other concerns.
“We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer,” she said. “It’s not. And the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago … sorry Barbara. We do need criminal justice reform … but we need to tell young people the truth: Drug addiction is an epidemic and it is taking too many of our young people. I know this, sadly, from personal experience.”
Photo credit: Heath Alseike, Creative Commons, Flickr.