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Perry and pot

Haul out your blind squirrels and acorns cliches.

Zonker

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he favors decriminalizing marijuana use and lessening punishment for minor offenders as the nation moves toward a more moderate approach to pot use and two states have legalized the drug.

Perry’s comments surprised some, since the governor has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for not stepping up border enforcement to counter the power of Mexican drug trafficking cartels. Perry has also supported legislation that would mandate drug testing for Texans seeking unemployment benefits or public housing.

But each state has the right to choose its path on how to deal with marijuana, he said, while defending Colorado and Washington’s decision to legalize the drug.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization” by introducing alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said during an international panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It’s the first time the governor, who’s voiced support for drug courts in the past, took a position on decriminalization in Texas.

Local law enforcement leaders in Houston had differing reactions to Perry’s comments.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who as a judge presided over a drug court, backed Perry’s advocacy of offering rehabilitation and community supervision.

“I echo Governor Perry’s support for drug counseling and lesser sentences for marijuana users in Texas,” according to a statement released by her office. “Our goal is to stop the revolving door process where a drug offender gets out of jail, starts using again, only to go back to jail where he or she will spend even more time.”

Anderson added: “Our hope is to keep people out of jail by getting them help.”

[…]

In the past, Perry has discussed his opposition to legalization of marijuana but voiced his support for the 10th amendment and states’ rights to legalize the drug, which he highlighted at the forum Thursday.

I include that last bit to observe that this is very likely more about poking President Obama with the 10th amendment than anything else. Perry doesn’t have a reformer’s record, to say the least, but a message of “keep your federal laws off my state” is consistent with the Rick Perry we know. That said, whatever the motivation Perry’s words are welcome. While most right-thinking people have evolved on this and on the huge costs of the “war on drugs” in general, having a few wrong-thinking people on board will help move things forward faster. As for Devon Anderson, I’m honestly unclear what she’s saying at this point. Let’s just agree that there’s a lot more that could be done here in Texas and in Harris County to keep pot smokers out of jail and provide better outcomes overall. I’d like to hear more candidates talk about decriminalization, or at least about dialing back punishment for smoking pot. If Rick Perry just gave some otherwise reluctant legislators and legislative candidates permission to do that, it’ll be one of the few genuine accomplishments he’ll be able to claim when he’s finally gone from office. Hair Balls, BOR, and Burka have more.

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