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Video: McCain town hall turns testy over Syria

GOP senator 'might look at' legalizing drugs

U.S. Sen. John McCain made the case for intervening in Syria's civil war on Thursday, telling a crowd of 150 — mostly opposed to American involvement — that he pledged U.S. intervention wouldn't mean "boots on the ground" or warplanes over the frayed Middle Eastern nation.

Some in the split crowd catcalled and wagged fingers in each other's faces during the heated afternoon meeting. Two men were walked out by police after McCain asked them to leave because they were interrupting the event; another man — who said he was a veteran opposed to the war — turned his back on McCain and stormed out after making a statement against U.S. attacks on the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

"I have no more time for you, senator," the man said.

McCain spent just 10 minutes making a statement on Syria at the beginning of the meeting, before opening the floor to questions.

"I want to promise you there should be no American boots on the ground," McCain told the crowd, many of whom responded with loud sarcastic laughter.

"I think we should stay the hell out of there," Marilyn Krausch stood up to tell the Republican senator, who has called for increased U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict for two years.

While many audience members expressed opposition, a contingent of Syrian Americans — wearing scarves patterned on that nation's flag and t-shirts bearing anti-Assad slogans —stood up to support an American campaign to destroy the Syrian government's ability to deploy chemical weapons.

"They are killing us," said Rania Hemzawi.

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"They are killing those people, they are innocents," she said, her voice welling with emotion.

"We need you," said Hemzawi, who moved to the United States from Damascus 21 years ago with her husband.

Unlike many of McCain's town halls, immigration and border weren't high on the agenda. It took nearly 40 minutes for anyone to raise the issues.

McCain echoed his previous support for immigration reform, saying that the border is "more secure" than ever before but calling for increased funding for border security.

In a surprise, McCain appeared to call for dialing down the war on drugs while speaking on border security.

"Maybe we should legalize" marijuana, he said.

"Let me just say what's going on in Mexico, in my view, to some degree, is our responsibility... because we're creating a demand for drugs in this country and when there's a demand, there's going to be a supply," McCain said.

"Legalize it!," called a number of attendees.

"Well, maybe we should legalize it," McCain said.

"We are certainly moving that way so far as marijuana is concerned, but I will respect the will of the people," he said.

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"My urging is that this country engage in a conversation about drugs, about the punishment for drugs," said the senator.

Questioned after the town hall, McCain dialed back his comments.

"I never said I would consider it," he said of legalization, saying he based his comments on voter support for medical marijuana. "I respect the will of the people," he said.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Rania Hemzawi gave a passionate call for American involvement in the Syrian conflict.