Soft on Drugs?

01.24.14

Rick Perry Mellows on Pot

The Texas governor stunned political observers by announcing his desire to decriminalize marijuana. Will the liberal stance affect his 2016 chances?

Well, he isn’t for legalizing the drug but the Governor of Texas, in the rather un-Texan setting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, endorsed taking steps towards decriminalizing cannabis possession on Thursday. 

Staking out a liberal position on marijuana seems to be a rather bold strategy.

In a panel at the prestigious forum, Perry said: “What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade.” 

In a statement to the San Antonio Express-News, Lucy Nashed, a Perry spokeswoman attempted to clarify the governor’s position. “Legalization is no penalty at all whereas decriminalization doesn't necessarily mean jail time (for minor possession offenses),” she said. “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.” 

The Texas governor’s support for decriminalization comes in the aftermath of both Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana and President Barack Obama signaling his lack of his disapproval by stating that the drug is less dangerous than alcohol in an interview with The New Yorker.

Perry’s statement is particularly interesting because the Texas Republican is not running for re-election in 2014 and, instead, is believed to be considering another presidential bid in 2016. If so, staking out a liberal position on marijuana seems to be a rather bold strategy, particularly considering that the Texas governor is likely to rely on the support of social conservatives in any future bid for national office.

While legalization may still be a bridge too far for many politicians, Perry’s is still a clear indication that there are now far fewer political consequences for backing marijuana decriminalization.