Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Gravel said the Bush administration is lying to the American public and spoke out for the legalization of marijuana on the Diag on Friday afternoon.
He spoke to a crowd of about 150 people for nearly 15 minutes on the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.
Gravel’s entourage consisted of just one man holding an umbrella over the candidate. It wasn’t raining.
Because Gravel has only raised $130,598, he is ineligible to participate in the next Democratic debate. His candidacy has drawn attention mostly for his incendiary and often angry remarks during the debates.
Perhaps a reflection of his inadequate funds, the campaign posters and banners that typically appear at politically rallies were absent from the speech, though a few supporters handed out flyers. One student carried a Ron Paul sign.
Gravel represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1981. Before that, he was a member of the Alaskan House of Representatives from 1963 to 1966.
As senator, Gravel was most famous for his strong stance in favor of ending the draft during the Vietnam War.
Gravel spoke out against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s policies on Iran during his Diag speech.
“Who the hell are we to have influence over there?” he said. “Iran is not a problem for us.”
He criticized the Bush administration for using establishing democracy in Iraq as a reason for overthrowing its government. He blamed military bureaucracy and arms companies looking to make a profit for the war.
Students’ reaction to his speech was generally positive.
“I think people were receptive to what he was saying,” said LSA junior David Hanna, who also called Gravel’s remarks “wildly refreshing” and “ridiculously funny”.
At times Gravel appeared confused. He repeatedly asked the event sponsors standing behind him when and where he was supposed to exit.
Gravel stepped away from the microphone halfway through the speech, as though he was leaving, but he returned when his sponsors asked him to speak on his stance on drugs.
Part of Gravel’s platform is to abolish most drug restrictions and legalize marijuana. Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, a student group promoting the leniency for drug offenders, sponsored Gravel’s speech. LSA sophomore Chris Chiles, the group’s director, introduced Gravel.
Gravel compared the war on drugs to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s.
He said marijuana specifically poses no threat to society and may have some healing powers.
“We’re all druggies to some level,” Gravel said.
Gravel said if alcohol is sold in stores, then marijuana should be sold right alongside it.
“What we need to do is take drugs and treat it for what it is,” he said. “It is a public health issue.”
There was a whiff of marijuana smoke in the air from the crowd as Gravel spoke. People circulated petitions that called for the legalization of medical marijuana.
Gravel said in an interview before the speech that putting people with drug abuse problems in jail doesn’t help them recover. He said drugs should be legal and available by prescription for addicts so they can be gradually weaned off of the substances.
If addicts had to see a doctor for a prescription, doctors would have an easier time tracking patients’ recovery, Gravel said.
Gravel also said education should be the main priority in the country’s future. He said if elected he hopes to implement an education program that would fund kindergarten through graduate school for every child in the country.
Gravel acknowledged that his ideas aren’t currently feasible. He said he hopes to change that by changing the way the government is structured.
“It’s (about) changing the paradigm of human governance,” he said.
Gravel said that to help Michigan’s struggling economy he would work to build windmills to encourage an increased use of electric power and help create jobs in the energy industry. He said he would turn the financing of the project over to private investors.
“Forget the government, because the government doesn’t know how to find a solution if their life depended on it,” he said.
– Elizabeth Lai contributed to this report.