Ron Paul talks with Air America’s Richard Greene about the legalization of hemp and marijuana.
Download the interview as an MP3 file here (18:45 minutes).
Richard Greene: It is my great pleasure to have on the line one of the most clouty politicians in America, one of the politicians with the greatest amounts of integrity and courage and [...] as we were talking about in our last segment. And he ran for President just last year. He was so popular that Shawn Hannity and other people at the Fox News Channel, when they did straw polls after the Republican debates and they saw that this man was actually getting more votes than Mitt Romney and John McCain, they basically canceled it and stopped talking about it. This guy, because of his truth and his integrity and his courage and his taking on issues that no other politician wants to even deal with, is like public enemy #1 on a lot of people’s list. But he is one of our heroes, even though he is not a liberal Democrat. Congressman Ron Paul, welcome to Air America.
Ron Paul: Thank you, it’s nice to be with you.
Richard Green: Well, listen. You know, your name keeps coming up and as I mentioned to you during the break even during the straw polls that were taken during the Democratic primary, people would put your name in there. Because even though you disagree with liberals on a number of very important issues, you are the kind of guy that people here on Air America, the listeners across the nation and around the world, want everyone to be because you have integrity and you stand up for what you believe to be true.
The issue that I am so excited about is this issue that Arnold Schwarzenegger helped put into play in a different way when he said, “You know, we should have a discussion about the legalization and the taxation of Marijuana”. But even more importantly, there are farmers in North Dakota, there are farmers in California, there are farmers all over the place who want to be able to grow a tremendously useful product called Industrial Hemp. And you were on MSNBC last night talking about how the United States of America is the only country in the world that doesn’t allow to grow it even though we import it from Canada and we send out American dollars to Canada and Mexico and every place else while we should be growing it here. Tell us how you got involved in this issue and why you’re so passionate about it.
Ron Paul: It’s just one more issue that deals with a basic principle that I work from. One is: personal liberty and personal choices, and also the constitution. I’ve argued that freedom is popular and brings people together. And actually if we’re serious about the rule of the law and look at our constitution, it really does bring a lot of conservatives and liberals that are principle together.
And so, to me, the marijuana, hemp and these other things… it isn’t necessarily that I know a whole lot about these particular subjects. I for one am very conservative in my habits and I don’t, as a matter of fact I’ve never seen anybody smoke marijuana.
But I understand what I think is important: states’ rights. If California wants to legalize it, let them legalize it. If you want to make your personal choice and assume responsibility for yourself, that’s your choice. I don’t want a nanny state. So it comes down to the fact that I can defend that on personal choices, personal liberty, as well as the constitution.
So when California tries to go back to what was intended and say that they’re supposed to deal with subjects like this, and the federal government comes in and they’re still doing it with the new administration, they’re actually arresting people that are sick, and people who are using marijuana for medical reasons. That’s just appalling to me that we can’t make our personal choices. I want the responsibility be on the individuals. But, they have to assume the responsibility of the consequences too.
If they make bad choices, I claim that they shouldn’t be able to crawl to their neighbor and be taken care off. So if drugs are legal and these people misuse them then they do it at their own risk.
But I really do believe in personal choices on social matters, just like most conservatives are quite willing to say they believe in personal choices on religious matters. They understand that. But as soon as it has to do with their own body, you know, what they put into their mouths or into their lungs, or you know, their habits, they say, “Well, we can’t trust the people to make these decisions” and I do trust individuals to make their own decisions even though I still think it would be far from a perfect society. But I think more it would be a much better society than when we have bureaucrats dictating to us our personal habits.
Richard Greene: Now that is the core of the libertarian philosophy, isn’t it? That you trust individuals rather than the state to make decisions. Is that correct?
Ron Paul: Yes, that’s it. It’s not that governments don’t have good intentions and want to help. But if they make a mistake it’s a mistake for all of us. If it’s nationalized then it’s a really bad mistake. So, yes and sometimes they don’t know what is best for us. They think they might, but how do they know what your desires are and how you want to spend your money. If you like to gamble it might be risky business but I don’t think I should prohibit you from it. So yes, the whole idea is that the individual gets to make the choices rather than a bureaucrat or a politician, who is doing it for some motivation.
Man: We’re talking to Congressman Ron Paul. Congressman, how did you developed this kind of philosophy which seems to be so different than so many people in the Republican Party and so many people down there in your home state of Texas?
Ron Paul: Yeah, especially during the time the Iraqi war was being fought and started, and Bush’s… as a matter of fact George Bush has remained popular, he has a 68% positive rating in my own district, so I still have a few challenges at times.
Richard Greene: Still? Hold on one second. Congressman, did you say George Bush has a 68% approval rating now in your district?
Ron Paul: Well, the last time we had an election, which was last year, yeah he was still rated very high in my district. Yet, there wasn’t one thing that… well, I guess if he wants to lower taxes I’ll be supporting that. But no, the rest of the stuff, you know all this big military spending and [suppression of] personal liberties and arresting people for marijuana use; I was always challenging that, and of course, all the things in foreign policy when it came to torture and these things. I was always in disagreement with him.
But I just think that if you tell people the truth, a lot of people in my district would say, “I know, I don’t agree with you on a lot of these things, but it’s so rare that we can trust somebody that we know exactly where he stands”. They sort of gave me a path on the things that they disagreed with me on.
Richard Greene: You just said something a few minutes ago which could be breaking news here, because I don’t know if you’ve ever had this question asked to you: Congressman Paul, have you ever smoked pot? You implied that not only have you never smoked pot, marijuana, but you have never even been with anyone who smoked pot. Is that correct? Did I hear that correctly?
Ron Paul: Well, somebody might deny and say that is not true because maybe they were with me and they did smoke pot, but I was never aware of anybody ever smoking marijuana in my presence. And I don’t know whether that’s important or not other than making the point that my approach is a little bit different. But I think that doesn’t hurt your particular cause to get things legalized for other reasons.
But also, as a doctor, it just bugs me to no end about this “compassionate conservatism” that prompted people to arrest sick people that didn’t commit a violent act. So, I’m coming from that angle. But, I just haven’t and it is just because even though I have a very libertarian and liberal attitude toward these things, I personally don’t get involved in them and that’s not my motivation.
As a matter of fact, I think that some of the libertarians are very, very pro-drugs and probably there are some liberals like that too who are for pro use of drugs. But if that’s the main reason, you lose a little bit of credibility. People think, “He kind of looks like a druggie, all he cares about is making sure he doesn’t get arrested”. Well I don’t want people to be arrested, but I think there is a bigger issue and to me it’s personal liberty and personal choices. That to me is so much more important.
Richard Greene: So you’re not pushing for the legalization of marijuana because you have smoked pot or because you want to. For you it’s a much bigger issue.
Ron Paul: Much, much bigger. It’s a personal choice issue. Then it becomes and economic issue as well. How much money do we spend running around and arresting 75,000 people a year and many of them end up in prison and all this drug war going on and the economics of what happens when drugs are illegal and the prohibition. Conservatives should respond on economic reasons why it is so ridiculous having a drug war.
The country woke up on prohibition of alcohol. I keep thinking they’re going to wake up on drugs too, I’m just thinking that the war on drugs is no more sensible than the prohibition of alcohol was in the 1920s.
Richard Greene: Well, it looks like there are three fronts in this war to create sanity with respect to marijuana. Number 1 is to elicit some compassion for the people who do in fact need and are relying on medical marijuana, and you just indicated that the raids are still going on. Is that correct? The raids are still going on in California and other places…
Ron Paul: Right.
Richard Greene: …where people have voted for medical marijuana but the federal government still comes in. That’s insane, especially with the President Obama administration. So we need to focus on that. But the other thing is the HR 1866 which is a bill to legalize hemp farming in America. You have introduced that with Congressman Barney Frank. I just have to ask you this: we’ve got a Democratic majority, we add you to that. If even 80% or 75% of the Democrats vote for this, it becomes law. Where are your colleagues on this bill?
Ron Paul: Well, they probably just don’t care. But you know what I find? If conservatives get elected and they’re supposed to balance the budget and in general they are not supposed to be pushing welfare spending here at home. Republicans get in and do the opposite, they run up budget deficits and they promote a lot of welfare stuff.
Democrats get in and as soon as they get in they say, “Oh, we got to watch our image, so we better be tough on foreign policy. We better do this, we hate these people, we’ve got to have a strong military”. At the same time, they want to be cautious that they don’t look like they’re weak on drugs, and that was why I think when Obama was asked by that young person about marijuana… how would the world have reacted if Obama had said, “You know, this war on drugs is stupid, and from now on I am never going to do another thing to interfere with the state regulating this, and we’re going to allow the states to regulate it like they regulate alcohol”. I mean, wouldn’t that have been amazing, and it would have been over. I just think the country would have changed their attitude completely and totally.
Richard Greene: Well, Congressman let’s see if we can make that happen. What would you like my listeners across the country to do? Listeners who are very, very sympathetic to pretty much everything you have said here tonight.
Ron Paul: Well I think mainly the system still works. If it doesn’t work I shouldn’t be in Congress and none of us should be talking politics. When the people wake up and let their Congressman know, the Congressman will respond. For instance, we’ve had a pretty good organization going talking about transparency of the Federal Reserve System. That might not be interesting to your listeners, but anyway, we have 160 co-sponsors of that bill and it’s not because of me. I don’t have clout in the Congress, I’m lousy at lobbying, I don’t go to my colleagues and say, “Will you get on this bill?, will you get on this bill?’. It’s come from the grassroots and this has been big news in many areas and the members of Congress are coming and automatically signing up. I guess that’s what it has to be.
How many people in this country care about hemp? There’s not a whole lot of people. To me it’s an important principle, but you know if you did a poll tomorrow, you probably wouldn’t have more than 1% who would care about hemp. In the speeches I gave over the last couple of years I would bring up the subject of hemp, but I also brought up the subject of your right to drink raw milk. The right to drink raw milk got more applause than the hemp bill because I guess, there are more people interested in the right to do that. But the point being that if there are enough people who wake up to call their Congressman and want to get their attention, yes they will respond. But the big problem is getting that grassroots effort to make a change.
Too often politicians become very, very cautious and they will bend in the direction of what they perceive is the political thing to do and any suggestion that you’re weak on the war of drugs has been a political negative. Whether they’re liberals or conservatives, it’s considered a political negative and I just think that they should have little more courage with their convictions.
Richard Greene: Right. But the questions is if, in fact, the poster for a particular Congressman, a colleague of yours, says to your colleague “Listen, you come out in favor of legalizing marijuana, or you even come out in favor of legalizing industrial hemp, even though the farmers in your state want it, you are toast”. And those campaign ads are going to be all over the TV and all over the radio, that you’re some sort of pot head and that you’re not anti-violence or anti-crime or whatever it is. And how do we get politicians to be like you, Ron Paul, and have the courage to say, “You know what. I am willing to take that chance because it’s the right thing to do?”
Ron Paul: Well, I don’t know what it’s going to take, I guess time and effort. I think the politicians are very, very slow. I think the average politician in Washington is probably about 20 years behind the people. When I went back into Congress, I was in from 1976 to 19684 then I was back into medicine, and in 1996 I came back in to the Congress. But in that campaign, because it was very well known about my opinion about drugs and the war on drugs and that I didn’t like it. I had to run against a Republican and then a Democrat and they spent all their money on emphasizing my unbelievable position on drugs. And these were so-called professional politicians. And they believed that all you have to say is, “Ron Paul is against the war on drugs” and he’ll automatically lose. I beat the Democrats and the Republicans on this issue, which tells me that the people in this country are much more sympathetic even back 12 years ago to this issue, and here I am in the Bible Belt. I’m in Texas, a very conservative area and still the people didn’t hold that against me.
Richard Greene: Congressman, what would you like my audience to do, starting tomorrow morning when the switchboard opens in Congress?
Ron Paul: Is it okay if I mention my website?
Man: Absolutely sir, you can do it whenever you want.
Ron Paul: I have a website, CampaignForLiberty.com and it deals with all these issues. Right now it’s involved in motivating people to call their Congressmen to deal with transparency of the Federal Reserve. This comes out of the fact that 700 billion dollars of the TARP funds were allocated and Congress gave them away and nobody knew where they want. The people realized it, they started howling and screaming. But now that they’re starting to realize that the Fed deals and trillions of dollars and that they’re never audited and they’re protected from being audited by the law, they’re very interested in this bill I have for transparency.
But I think the most important thing is to be involved. I think we should study all the issues and then still believe in the process enough that you can influence a member of Congress. It would be nice to say that everybody would be philosophically attuned in Washington, but believe me, they’re there because they sort of like the job and the prestige and that sort of thing. So it’s prevailing attitude of the people that makes the difference.
The Congress is exactly what the people have asked for, you know. Over the years the people really have supported going into unnecessary wars and supported the runaway welfare state, and deficit financing. Have deficits today’s and worry about it tomorrow. And yet it hurts everybody whether they’re liberals or conservatives.
So to me it’s studying economics and studying the principles of liberty, studying our constitution. I do think we should have a strong respect for the rule of law because even if we disagree on some issues, we ought to agree that we ought to do it within the bounds of the constitution. If we don’t, there is nothing left to it and we just run rough shot of it.
And you know, generally speaking, the left has been critical of those who talk about states’ rights, but a perfect example of the importance of states’ rights is this idea of legalizing marijuana in California. If we understood state rights, that shouldn’t be an issue. The federal government should have never been involved.
Richard Greene: Congressman, I couldn’t agree more with you, certainly on this issue. The website again?
Ron Paul: CampaignForLiberty.com
Richard Greene: Congressman Ron Paul, really such an honor. You are a man of great courage and integrity and keep up the good work, my friend.
Ron Paul: Thank you.
Richard Greene: Take care.