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Kucinich 'Admires' Paul, Says Drug Problem Requires 'Compassion and Wisdom'

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The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich was scheduled for a full day of campaigning Wednesday, Nov. 21, but he set aside some time in the morning to conduct one-on-one interviews with New Hampshire press at his Manchester office. Armed only with my digital voice recorder, I ascended the stairs of the office, which is located above the Merrimack Restaurant on Elm St.

After a short wait, I was led into a small room with the Congressman, who shook my hand and closed the door so we could have privacy. And so the conversation began:

MS: First I'd like to ask you about an issue that has been one of your issues, but I haven't heard mentioned yet in this campaign, and that's industrial hemp farming. U.S. companies import hemp from Canada, Europe, and even China, but our farmers are not permitted to grow it because the DEA says hemp is identical to marijuana. So let me ask you Congressman, as a sponsor of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, what's the matter with this picture, and what, in your mind, are the benefits of hemp?

DK: It's hard to discern why this should even be an issue. I mean, let's cut right to the quick. Marijuana should be decriminalized, period. Decriminalize it and then hemp's not an issue.

MS: Why is this taking so long?

DK:
Well, you know, we have attitudes about drug use which need to be reexamined. If someone has a drug problem, I see it as a medical problem, not a criminal justice matter. Now if someone's pushing the drugs, trafficking in drugs, it's a whole different matter. They ought to be prosecuted and go to jail. But as far as marijuana? Look, I've never... I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't do drugs, okay? I don't get why the country ought to be turned upside down over the issue of marijuana, so to me hemp's not an issue.

The conversation then turned to the New Hampshire police officer who had recently confronted John McCain at a town hall. Kucinich had never heard of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (L.E.A.P.), but he said he was not surprised to learn of their existence.

MS: Do you think it would have a major impact on public opinion if more members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities went public with their criticisms of the War on Drugs?

DK:
I think it would be helpful because they have to deal with it. They're the ones who have to arrest and round up people for essentially nonviolent offenses, when violent crime is something that really needs the attention of law enforcement. Again, it's a matter of just we need to change our laws. We need to end mandatory minimums. We need to look at drug abuse as being a medical problem and help people get the medical care, the mental health care that they need in order to put their lives together again.

Again, I've never done drugs. I couldn't stand the idea of anything altering my own consciousness. I don't need to do that, but for those who have done that, they need compassion. Some of them need care. They don't need judgment.

This approach is similar to that of two other candidates on the campaign trail: Mike Gravel and Ron Paul. Dr. Paul in particular has spoken with authority against the "War on Drugs" throughout his campaign. I decided to ask Congressman Kucinich about his thoughts on his colleague in the House of Representatives.

MS: One thing I found interesting was that Dr. Paul, in his WMUR "Conversation with the Candidate" several months ago, was asked which candidate he might support if he wasn't running. After mentioning Chuck Hagel as a potential anti-war GOP candidate, he said "on the Democratic side, it just happens that Dennis Kucinich is a good friend of mine, and he's an honest person." Some of his more conservative supporters may have been surprised by that, but it prompts me to ask, what besides honesty do you have in common with Dr. Paul?

DK: He's been a fearless defender of the Constitution and an outspoken opponent of war as an instrument of policy. He's very bright. He's someone who has a lot of courage, and he's my friend... it's nice when you can admire your friends even if you may have some disagreements with them? I admire him.

MS: Now I'd like to ask you about a moment that took place a couple of debates ago, one which passed without a whole lot of comment. When Tim Russert asked who disagreed with Senator Dodd's position that marijuana should be decriminalized, you were the only person who did not raise your hand. Senator Edwards said it would send the wrong signal to young people, which Senator Dodd later found amusing. What would you have said if you'd been given a minute to speak on that issue to the American people in that debate?

DK: That I agree with Senator Dodd. This again should be about our awareness of taking the tension away from this issue -- not attention, tension. When you put judgment on people because they have used drugs, you make it difficult for people to be able to take a new path. I'll be a president who demonstrates both compassion and wisdom in how you deal with these issues. I'm not into judging people. I'm into meeting people as to who they are and helping them get to who they want to be.

Kucinich also reminded me that when the DEA conducted raids in California four years ago, he had flown out to speak against them. Although the DEA raids did not begin until after Sept. 11, 2001, the Clinton administration took a firm position against medical marijuana in the late 90's. I pointed out that the Clinton/Gore drug war had been marked by increased budgets, mandatory minimum sentences, "zero tolerance" policies, and a multiplication in the number of marijuana arrests.

MS: Is it enough (as Senator Clinton suggests) to elect another Democratic president, or is it critical that we look at specific issues?

DK:
There are Democrats and then there are Democrats. There are Democrats who as the Clintons did, favored, pushed for NAFTA and China trade, who would not admit the possibility of a not-for-profit health care system, who, you know, may have done some good things, but... We are in a position now where the remedies that are needed in our society are much more profound. We need to, if we're looking for a historical model, we probably should be looking not at 1992, but at 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt came into office and brought forth a dramatic program of economic reform to make sure that everyone was able to survive financially with jobs for all and retirement security for all, with regulation of Wall Street, with government playing a positive and active role in people's lives. So I think that would be the model I'd be looking for, 1932, not 1992.

MS: He also ended Prohibition, didn't he?

DK: And that was a good thing. And I say this as someone who doesn't drink, because there's a deeper issue of human freedom here. The minute you start to get into Thou Shalt Nots... it's always a risky business, when you're talking about affecting social mores.