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Rick Perry Says States Have The Right To Decide Whether To Legalize Pot

World Economic Forum
Gov. Rick Perry, center, was part of a panel about drugs at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday morning that states have the right to decide whether to legalize marijuana.

Perry spoke as part of a high-profile panel about drugs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Other panelists included Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, and Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia.

States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, he said, "then people will decide where they want to live,” according to U.S. News and World Report.

Perry said that he has started to implement policies that “start us toward a decriminalization,” such as introducing drug courts that offer treatment and softer penalties for more minor offenses, U.S. News reported.

Perry doesn't favor outright legalization

U.S. News reported:

Perry joked he was the only person on stage who doesn't favor legalization of certain drugs. "We [Texans] certainly would never jump out in front of the parade" on marijuana legalization, Perry said. But other American states have, in his opinion, a right to decide for themselves. But the Texas governor, in office since 2000 and not seeking re-election in 2014, made clear he doesn't favor outright legalization and cited a warning from former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who co-founded the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana group, that marijuana potency has increased. "It's more popular to have the position of the governor than my position," Santos said. Annan praised Perry for "beginning to roll that [criminalization of drugs] back in Texas." "I think what you are doing is right... and I applaud you," the former U.N. leader said.

Perry's office posts on Twitter:

Texas drug courts promising, Perry's office says

The San Antonio Express-News fleshed out the governor’s stance:

His spokesman confirmed that Perry is staunchly opposed to legalization of marijuana because of medical issues, but is committed to policies to lower the punishment for its use in order to keep smokers out of jail. “Legalization is no penalty at all, where as 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 Lucy Nashed, a spokesman for Perry. “The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing,” When asked whether Perry thinks it's a good idea to decimalize small amounts of marijuana in Texas, Nashed said “I think so; he has proven that with the drug courts in Texas.” … “I am shocked,” said Ana Yunez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, adding that Perry killed a drug treatment bill in 2007. “I am very happy to hear the governor supports a more rehabilitative approach.”

In Texas, changing attitudes

KERA recently reported on changing attitudes toward legalizing marijuana in Texas:

A 2013 poll in Texas conducted by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of support for both medical and recreational use of marijuana -- as well as a desire to change the state’s laws to lower penalties for recreational possession.

According to the poll, 58 percent of Texans "support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol," and 61 percent were in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession of an ounce or less to a civil, not criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100.

While the Texas Democratic Party endorsed marijuana decriminalization in 2012, Texas Republicans, like State Sen. John Carona, aren’t budging.

As for those who think legalization is possible when the legislature meets in 2015, Carona says: “Pardon the pun, but those people are high.”

“Drug policy in Texas and marijuana legalization is not going to happen in 2015," he said. "All anyone needs to do is look at the makeup of the House and the Senate, realizing how conservative we are here in Texas. That hope for change is just wishful thinking.”

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.