Perry defends states’ right to legalize marijuana


WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry defended Colorado and Washington’s legalization of marijuana on Thursday, saying it was an issue of state rights, while touting initiatives in Texas as national models for keeping minor drug offenders out of jail.

Perry’s comments during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland echoed his past comments on drug policy, but they caused a bit of a stir because of how publicly the Republican endorsed lesser punishments for non-violent drug offenders.

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His spokesman, Lucy Nashed, said the governor was promoting Texas drug courts, which offer treatment instead of jail time for non-violent offenders. But she sidestepped questions about whether Perry supported decriminalizing marijuana in Texas — where having or selling small amounts are misdemeanors — saying only that drug courts have worked in Texas and should be an example to other states and countries.

“He’s very much for rehabbing and a diversionary program (rather) than sending people directly to jail, and I think he’s been pretty clear about that during his time as governor,” Nashed said. “This is for non-violent offenders and, for a lot of circumstances, it’s the right policy.”

Nashed didn’t have video of Perry making the comments, which according to U.S. News and World Report came during a panel discussion on drug policy that also included former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

But the governor did say that he couldn’t see Texas legalizing pot any time soon.

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“We certainly would never jump out in front of the parade,” Perry said, according to the news magazine.

A staunch defender of states’ rights, Perry has often advocated for states setting their own policy on a number of potentially thorny issues — and has sometimes gotten himself into trouble in conservative circles for doing so. The governor has long said that it was fine for each state to set its own same-sex marriage policy — but while running for president in 2011, he clarified that he personally opposes it.

Possession of less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor in Texas, as is selling less than seven grams of it.

Many urban counties, meanwhile, only issue a ticket for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana without making arrests. Prosecutors often use drug courts to divert people out of the criminal justice system, where a conviction can lead to long-term unemployment and greater drug abuse.

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Texas has been at the forefront of diverting people convicted of non-violent drug offenses into treatment programs rather than jail. Even an influential conservative Austin think-tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has a 3-year-old “Right on Crime” initiative to decrease the number of criminal laws across the country and reduce the number of non-violent criminals in prisons.