Nick Gillespie highlighted one of the better moments in last night’s debate. Rand Paul did something few Republicans would dare do: he criticized the war on drugs.

Paul couched his argument in 10th Amendment terms, saying that states should be allowed to experiment with different approaches to medical and recreational pot legalization, a radical idea among the Republicans on stage and drug warriors such as Hillary Clinton:

The bottom line is the states. We say we like the 10th Amendment, until we start talking about this. And I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities.

Not only do the drugs damage them, we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time.

So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.

Paul was alone among last night’s participants in touching on the racial disparities visited like a plague upon the country by the drug war. It’s of a piece with his ongoing efforts to reach out to new constituencies for the GOP, especially lower-income minorities who bear the brunt of drug laws that are not only odious by themselves but are used much more intensely against blacks and Hispanics. Indeed, one of the most electrifying moments in the debate for me came when Paul told Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents and an argent drug warrior, to check his privilege:

Under the current circumstances, kids who had privilege like you [Jeb Bush, who has admitted to smoking pot in high school] do, don’t go to jail, but the poor kids in our inner cities go to jail. I don’t think that’s fair. And I think we need to acknowledge it, and it is hypocritical to still want to put poor people in jail.

Despite the drug war losing ground at the state level—a couple of dozen states allow medical marijuana and three allow for recreational pot with more sure to follow—it’s a brave stance to embrace the idea that people might be free to choose their intoxicants.

Excellent. I am reminded of a picture that’s floating around on Facebook.

anslinger

Unfortunately, too many conservatives think the war on drugs is Reagan’s baby, so they are loathe to criticize it, lest they be seen as “liberal,” or “soft on drugs,” or “pro-hippie.”

A government that uses massive military force against its citizens for putting unapproved substances into their bodies is Orwellian, not conservative.

NOTE: The above image is not my design, but I should note that it has a minor error. Anslinger was head not of the DEA, but of its predecessor agency, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, from 1930-1962.