Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is poised to become the first top-tier presidential candidate from either party to make marijuana reform a major campaign issue.
Paul, who will announce his White House bid on Tuesday, has argued forcefully that states should be allowed to adopt their own policies on the use of medical marijuana without fear of federal interference.
He introduced a bill in March that would prevent federal prosecution of patients in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.
He’s separately offered support for the growth of industrial hemp, and worked to win Senate passage of legislation in 2014 to allow states to grow hemp for research.
More broadly, Paul has called for a serious review of the nation’s policies on illegal drugs. He’s an outspoken critic of decades-long prison sentences for the sale or possession of marijuana, which he has called “ridiculous.”
Of course, Paul’s policies on pot could also backfire with older, more conservative Republicans in the GOP primaries.
While many younger Republican voters are evolving on marijuana reform, older voters still have strong reservations about pot, which could be a significant “hurdle” for Paul in the primaries, said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser to John McCain in 2008.
“Older Republican voters are not exactly ecstatic about the idea of legalizing marijuana,” O’Connell said.