Rand Paul, the polarizing junior senator from Kentucky, has reignited the debate surrounding marijuana. On March 24, Paul stated in an interview with Fox News Sunday that kids who smoke marijuana should not be sent to jail. A self-proclaimed libertarian and "constitutional conservative," Paul introduced a bill last week that would allow judges greater flexibility in assigning minimum sentences for drug offenders.
Currently judges are not allowed to adapt sentencing for non-violent drug crimes, and with federal detention facilities over capacity by nearly 40%, the need for reform is urgent. If passed, Paul’s bill would institute a safety valve that would allow courts (in certain circumstances) "to sentence a person below the mandatory minimum if that sentence is too lengthy, unjust or unreasonable, or doesn't fit the offender or the crime." The use of medical marijuana has become legal in seventeen states, including Washington, D.C., even though federal laws are in conflict.
Paul doesn't support the legalization of marijuana, but thinks the current mandatory minimum sentences don’t fit the crime. Paul encourages people to abstain from drug use, including marijuana, but doesn't believe people should be labeled as criminals for petty offenses. Paul argues that citizens in their teens and twenties make a lot of mistakes, including drug usage, and that a poor decision shouldn't ruin their lives.
The senator used Presidents George W. Bush and President Obama as examples of the overzealous drug laws that can destroy the potential of many of the millennial generation. Paul insists the presidents "got lucky" by not having to go jail for their drug use thanks to high-powered attorneys, but that poor inner-city kids do not have the same good fortune.
Marijuana is the most widely used narcotic with approximately 18 million users in the United States in 2011. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, "More teenagers are now current smokers of marijuana than of cigarettes." Marijuana usage has been on the rise since 2007, with Colorado becoming the first state to fully legalize the controversial substance.
Even though Paul supports lower sentences for marijuana users, he encourages people to abstain from drugs, claiming that drug use "takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing." Marijuana has been known to have adverse affects on the structure and function of the brain. Research has revealed that long-term abuse of marijuana negatively impacts the learning and memory centers of the brain, and has the potential to cause lower self-worth in users. The study showed that adolescents who were chronic marijuana users could lose up to 8 points in IQ between ages 13 and 38.
Paul’s bill is gaining support among his conservative peers, and is likely to help him among millennial voters if he chooses to make a run for the White House in 2016.