DURHAM, N.H. — Presidential candidate Rand Paul pointedly opened a University of New Hampshire forum Monday by suggesting that former Florida governor Jeb Bush's opposition to the decriminalization of marijuana is hypocritical.
Speaking to about 100 people at a Students for Rand rally, the US senator from Kentucky said he "didn't necessarily" have a problem with Bush's admission that he used marijuana as a young man.
But he added, "What I do have a problem with is that he's still for laws to put people in jail for that, and I think the hypocrisy is that in general wealthy kids don't go to jail for marijuana. Poor kids do."
Paul noted the racial and economic divides in people arrested for nonviolent drug crimes, saying marijuana arrests tend "15-to-1" to affect black people over white people.
"[Bush] doesn't acknowledge that it's really the poor kids getting caught up in this," he said. "And if you're a rich kid going to Andover, you just frankly don't get caught."
Paul's trip to campus comes 100 days before the New Hampshire primary. It's also part of his recent push to rally students to his struggling campaign. In recent polls of the first-in-the-nation primary, Paul receives only a few percentage points, placing him in the bottom half of the 15-person GOP field in the Granite State.
In Wednesday's GOP presidential debate on CNBC, he spoke less than any of the other candidates on stage.
Before his speech Monday, he questioned the objectivity of the debate moderators.
"We have a product that about 20 million people like to watch, so it makes a lot of money for the networks that broadcast this, and our leverage should be used to get objective moderators," Paul said on Monday. "I think people want the RNC to be stronger in their negotiations."
As he began addressing the largely student audience, Paul diverged from his stump speech, diving right into decriminalization of marijuana, the need to protect personal privacy, and his belief that Congress should always have the right to authorize America's wars.
Aaron Jones, a 21-year-old University of New Hampshire student, said he came to the event as a strong Paul supporter.
"He's the only one [who] really speaks to me in some kind of way," Jones said of Paul and the 2016 presidential field. "All the others seem out of touch, I guess. Pretty much everything he covers is what I'm passionate about."
Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, 20, also a student, asked Paul whether he would agree that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, and what he would do to change energy consumption patterns. Sinclair-Wingate said he was happy with Paul's response.
"He skirted around my question for a little bit, but at the end he did say that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, and I think that's a good first step," Griffin said.
Aside from a mention to reporters that he would like to make online classes more accessible, Paul did not address issues of the expense of higher education or burgeoning student debt.