Rand Paul: Police militarization, war on drugs is 'out of control'

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is openly weighing a presidential bid.

Story highlights

  • Rand Paul says police forces have become too militarized
  • He spoke to a libertarian-friendly audience
  • The Kentucky Republican says unnecessary force has been used against some pot users
  • Paul is considering a presidential bid for 2016
Fresh off his Senate floor speech against arming Syrian rebels, Sen. Rand Paul shifted gears Thursday night to lambast the current state of police militarization in the United States, especially when it comes to the war on drugs.
The Kentucky Republican told a libertarian-leaning audience in Alexandria, Virginia that police sometimes direct their focus on the wrong crimes.
"You want your police to be aggressive," he said. "But if someone's got some pot, you want to break down the door at two in the morning with masks and gas and concussion grenades?"
Paul was speaking to the Liberty Political Action Conference, where moments before his speech he was on stage with his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, to deliver a scholarship award.
It was a rare dual appearance by the two, as Rand Paul, who's laying the groundwork for a potential presidential bid, has attempted to differentiate himself from his father's legacy as a vocal libertarian. (Rand Paul, however, dutifully quoted his father at the end of his speech: "Freedom is popular. Bring it on.")
On militarization, Rand Paul said the public may never really know what happened to Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri last month, and he didn't weigh in on the still unfolding controversy.
But he's had much to say about the clashes between police and protesters that followed after the shooting. Paul made headlines last month with a commentary that called for the demilitarization of police. It was a bold stance at a time when many federal lawmakers were largely staying out of the Ferguson debate.
He fired up the audience Thursday night, ticking off examples of outsized arsenals in small communities, collections that he described as "crazy stuff."
"When you see something dumb like giving out 12,000 bayonets, just stop doing it," he said.
President Obama has ordered a review the federal programs that enable state and local law enforcements to purchase military equipment.
Some of that force, Paul said, has been used against marijuana users. Recalling stories of people being injured during drug raids, Paul said the situation has "gotten out of control."
"I'm ok with police using force," he said, saying if his wife were taken hostage, he'd want someone to save her. "But if somebody's saying there's some kid who's got pot in the house, I think it's a little crazy to have this war on drugs gone so far."
Paul has actively sought to reduce mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, as well as restore voting rights for nonviolent felons who've completed their sentences.
The senator hits the road this weekend, this time to California. He participates in a school choice roundtable discussion in San Pedro on Friday, then speaks at the California GOP convention on Saturday.