Texas Gov. Rick Perry has softened his position on the use of marijuana, saying he wants to eventually decriminalize pot-smoking although he's not planning to make it legal in the Lone Star state.
“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization
," he said during an international panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The governor, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, told the meeting that he had supported "drug courts" in Texas that provide treatment for users and hand out softer penalties for minor offenses.
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed told the Chronicle that while Perry does not favor legalization due to the dangers of the drug, he's determined to push policies that keep marijuana users out of prison.
“Legalization is no penalty at all, whereas decriminalization doesn't necessarily mean jail time. 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," she said.
"The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing,” she added, pointing out that decriminalization would exclude violent offenders and dealers.
The Chronicle noted that someone caught with less than two ounces of marijuana in Texas can be jailed for up to 180 days and fined up to $2,000, while an offender with more than five pounds faces up to two years in jail.
Perry's statement in Davos "shocked” Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which ha supported a drug treatment bill in 2007 that the governor vetoed.
“I am very happy to hear the governor supports a more rehabilitative approach," said Yanez-Correa, who noted that there are 15,000 people in Texas prisons for drug possession.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize
the sale of marijuana last year, and now the District of Columbia along with California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are planning their own voter-driven initiatives to legalize the drug.
As the debate over legalization heated up, President Barack Obama has also weighed in with a controversial claim that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. Former Rhode Island Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy said earlier this week the president was "wrong"
to make such a statement because the drug can be "very harmful."
"The new marijuana is not the old marijuana and the president is making this decision based on his anecdotal experience. We need presidential decisions based on public health and the sound science that the federal government has invested in, which shows this is very harmful," Kennedy, a former drug addict, told MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
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