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In the News: Rick Perry Surprises Many By Supporting Decriminalization of Pot

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Gov. Rick Perry recently announced that he is for the decriminalization of marijuana use in his home state. Decriminalization means the relaxing of punishment for marijuana users, which is a distinction from full-on legalization of pot.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during an international panel on drug legalization, Perry said, “As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization,” referring to the alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses that he implemented. This marks the first time the governor has taken a position on the decriminalization of pot in Texas.

Lucy Nashed, Governor Perry’s spokeswoman, said Perry has discussed support of drug courts in the past; however, the governor specifically has not gone as far as supporting decriminalization in public comments.

Passed in 2001 by Democrat lawmakers, Texas drug courts provide supervision and intense rehabilitation for convicted drug users instead of jail time. Perry’s spokeswoman confirmed that the governor remains firmly opposed to the legalization of marijuana because of the so-called known dangers associated with the drug in marijuana, THC, but is committed to creating policies that would soften the punishment for its use to keep marijuana users from serving actual jail time.

“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,” said Nashed.

“The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing,” she added. Perry, through his spokeswoman made it clear, however, that decriminalization would not include violent offenders and dealers. For example, as it stands now, someone found with less than 2 ounces of marijuana can be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail and fined up to $2,000 whereas someone found with more than 5 pounds of pot can face up to two years in jail.

So far, there have been bills introduced in the state Legislature that would reduce penalties and allow the sale of medicinal marijuana. And over that six-year period, none have made it out of committee.

Perry has always been transparent and outspoken about his opposition to the legalization of marijuana and at the same time voiced his support for the 10th amendment and state’s rights to legalize marijuana.

According to Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, more than 15,000 people are imprisoned in Texas correctional facilities for drug possession. “I am shocked,” she admitted because, back in 2007, Perry killed a drug treatment bill that the organization supported. She added, “I am very happy to hear the governor supports a more rehabilitative approach.”

Of Perry and the decriminalization of marijuana, Nashed said, “He has long supported diversionary programs like drug courts in Texas that have had remarkable results.”

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