The news: Texas Governor Rick Perry wants lesser punishments for smoking pot. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Perry called for a move toward rehabilitation for drug offenders, rather than strict punishments.
Perry stressed the need to "implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives," and says "that’s what we’ve done [in Texas] over the last decade."
This is the first time Perry has come out in favor of decriminalization.
It’s important to note, though, that decriminalization and legalization are two very different things, and Perry is, right now, not in favor of legalization. According to a spokeswoman for the governor, "Legalization is no penalty at all, whereas decriminalization doesn’t necessarily mean jail time (for minor possession offenses). It means more of a fine or counseling or some sort of program where you don’t end up in jail but in a rehabilitative program."
So Perry believes marijuana should remain illegal (though he supports deciding legalization on a state-by-state basis), but the punishment for minor pot offenses should be more productive. This is a big step forward for the former Republican presidential candidate.
Big name politicians coming out in favor of drug law reform is becoming something of a trend lately. Just one week ago Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supported the legalization of medical marijuana. And, of course, President Barack Obama gave two very good arguments for the legalization of pot in a recent New Yorker interview, though he didn’t come out and explicitly endorse legalization. And now a notable member of the GOP is on the record for supporting decriminalization.
Even though Perry hasn’t expressed support for out-right legalization, the fact that he wants to "keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism" is a promising first step, and a welcome one. Jails across the country are overcrowded with minor drug offenders; it’s about time political leaders do something about it. The director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said she was "very happy to hear the governor supports a more rehabilitative approach."
Perry isn't running for re-election as Texas governor, but he hasn't ruled out a presidential run. If his recent statements are any indication, pot may find itself center stage come primary season.