Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) maybe, probably, could have smoked some pot in college.
"Let's just say I wasn't a choir boy when I was in college and that I can recognize that kids make mistakes," Paul said when asked about his previous marijuana use during an interview with Louisville WHAS11 published Monday. "And I can say I made mistakes when I was a kid."
While Paul acknowledged that marijuana isn't as harmful as some other substances, he didn't advocate for its use but did explain that sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes is unbalanced.
"I think drugs, marijuana included, aren't good for you," Paul said. "That being said, I don't want to put our kids in prison for it. So if your kid was caught selling marijuana or growing enough that it's a felony conviction, they could be in jail for an extended period of time, they also lose their ability to be employable. So I want to change all of that. I want to lessen the criminal penalties on it but I don't want to be seen as an advocate for its use."
Libertarian-leaning Paul called out the uneven application of criminal penalties for marijuana possession in poorer communities and questioned whether the past three presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, all of whom have admitted to some marijuana use -- would have succeeded as they did if they had been caught with the drug under different circumstances.
"If they had been poor or lived in poverty or lived in one of our big cities where there's a lot of patrols, there's a good chance that none of them would have ever excelled," Paul said. "I have a great deal of personal sympathy for people who have made mistakes as a young person."
Paul referred to a recent case in Texas where a 19-year-old was facing life in prison over a batch of pot brownies he made. The teen was charged with possessing with the intent to sell the entire weight of the brownies -- 1.5 pounds -- made with marijuana oil, not simply the smaller amount of THC that he cooked into the brownies.
"Life in prison for selling pot brownies is an inappropriate sentence," Paul said.
In the current congressional session, Paul introduced five bills dealing with everything from scaling back mandatory minimum sentencing to civil asset forfeiture reform to shielding medical marijuana businesses from federal intervention. Most recently, Paul teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce the REDEEM Act, aimed at reducing the national prison population and rolling back draconian sentencing rules.
The United States is home to just 5 percent of the world’s population, but a full 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The harsh and lengthy sentences for nonviolent drug possession or distribution crimes have helped bolster that figure. In 1980, there were roughly 40,000 drug offenders in U.S. prisons, according to research from The Sentencing Project, a prison sentencing reform group. By 2011, the number of drug offenders serving prison sentences had ballooned to more than 500,000 -- most of whom were not high-level operators and did not have prior criminal records.
To date, four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana. Those plus another 19 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. And while Paul hasn't come out in favor of full federal legalization, he has been supportive of D.C.'s new recreational marijuana law and also supports protecting from federal intervention medical marijuana operations that are legal based on state laws.
Last week, Paul announced that he'll be seeking re-election to the Senate in the next election cycle, but is also considering running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
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