Perry endorses state control of marijuana

posted at 10:41 am on January 24, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Over the last couple of days, I’ve argued that the White House has begun to set up another “evolution” on a social issue that plays strongly among younger voters — marijuana legalization — and that Republicans would likely have to keep pace with the change. Count Rick Perry as one getting ahead of the curve. Perry told the World Economic Forum in Davos that he opposes legalization in Texas, but he wants to start moving toward decriminalization — and that he fully supports a federalist approach in letting states make those decisions. The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs wonders whether his “liberal stance” will make him stronger for a 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination:

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.

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 headline states, “Rick Perry mellows on pot.” Well, decriminalization might be a mellower position than Perry’s previous stance, but not by a whole lot, I’d guess.  Perry himself noted that during his tenure as governor, the emphasis on enforcement has shifted over the past thirteen years of his tenure.  Most states have already “decriminalized” simple possession to a low-ranking misdemeanor with a fine. Dealing is another matter, of course, but most jurisdictions have found that the cost of jailing people for simple possession is far costlier than its deterrent value, and that the better approach to this prohibition is at least some attempt at counseling and rehabilitation rather than housing people for what they do to themselves. And in some jurisdictions, that “mellowing” on simple possession and use isn’t limited to marijuana, either.

On the other hand, this gets right into Perry’s federalist wheelhouse. In his speech, he also noted that what works for Colorado won’t necessarily work for Texas, and vice versa:

“But,” he continued, “the point is that after 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. 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. So I think there’s some innovation that goes on in the states that can translate not just to Oklahoma or California or New York, but to Switzerland, to France, to other countries that have this drug issue facing them, that there are some alternatives without going that big full step and decriminalizing and sending a message to people that it’s OK.”

The federalist message will sell with libertarian-minded Republicans, but will that alienate social conservatives that mostly support Perry? Peter Weber at The Week says yes:

Let’s look at the polls: An October 2013 Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, a number that drops to 35 percent when you look at just Republicans. Similarly, in an April 2013 Pew poll that found 52 percent support for legalizing weed, only 37 percent of GOP voters (29 percent of conservative Republicans) and 33 percent of voter 65 and older were on board. In a January poll from CNN/ORC International, 55 percent backed legalizing pot, but only 36 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of voters in the South agreed.

Maybe Perry’s talk of easing up on the war on pot will appeal to the younger, libertarian-leaning Republicans who formed the backbone of the Ron Paul Revolution — but they already have a candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Perry is hardly libertarian on social issues. As GOP strategist Ford O’Connell says at U.S. News, “the growing ‘conser-tarian’ movement… will find much to like, although some to dislike, in Perry’s agenda.”

More to the point, look at who voted in the 2012 GOP primaries: Old (white) people, mostly. “In 12 of the 16 states where exit polls have been conducted,” said National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein in March 2012, “voters over 50 cast at least 60 percent of the GOP primary votes; in the other four, they represented at least 55 percent of the vote.” In Florida and Nevada, more than 70 percent of the GOP primary electorate was AARP-eligible.

It’s true that a majority of Americans now appear to back legalizing marijuana, but Perry can’t try to win their vote until he gets through the Republican primary. And even if he did win the nomination, he still needs older voters to back him in large numbers: In 2012, Romney won 52 percent of voters age 50 to 64 and 56 percent of the 65+ demographic. These are the only cohorts that don’t support marijuana legalization.

Yes, but that assumes marijuana prohibition occupies the same priority level as, say, abortion. It doesn’t, though. While social conservatives (and some progressives) still oppose legalization for the signals of moral approval it sends, it’s not likely to be a make-or-break issue, even in a Republican primary. We do see some single-issue voters on abortion, but I’m unaware of any on pot, especially since until very recently both parties wanted to maintain the government prohibition on it. And since decriminalization is a process that has been ongoing for a couple of decades, it’s hardly radical enough to be a last-straw issue, even in Republican primaries and caucuses in deeply conservative states.

The issue here isn’t moral signals, but political signals. Marijuana is about the only issue left that will energize college-age and graduate voters, especially now that they’re getting a good look at the costs associated with ObamaCare. Perry’s approach is a good model for Republicans — defuse the issue with both a not-total-legalization policy married to federalism that gets Washington out of the mix on the issue. That’s enough to dilute the impact of the inevitable “evolution” that will come later this year when Democrats get desperate for campaign energy.

Update: Again via Peter, a colleague of mine at The Week, Pew’s numbers from last April offer some reason why Perry’s federalism is unlikely to cost him votes. While Republicans strongly opposed legalization 60/37, an almost equal majority (57/40) wants the federal government to butt out.


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I have a little more respect for Perry now.

SauerKraut537 on January 24, 2014 at 10:47 AM

Consistency on federalism is always nice.

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 10:55 AM

States rights? Who is this bigot who wants states to have rights.

Bishop on January 24, 2014 at 10:55 AM

I have a little more respect for Perry now.

SauerKraut537 on January 24, 2014 at 10:47 AM

I’d hang fire on the “strange new respect” business. Marijuana legalization is currently very fashionable, and Perry has been an expert in his time as governor when it comes to putting his finger up to find which way the political wind blows.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Cowboy Politics in Switzerland…

Gig Em’

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 10:58 AM

eriething gon to beee aight mon, keep smokin dat ganj mon

we gon celebrayte in teeexis mon, light up ya jointz mon

blatantblue on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Use the states to deal with social issues – keep the feds out, including the federal district courts.

It is a winning path – take DC out of the discussion on social issues – completely. It will take time, but can be done. With it, the left’s last strawman argument dies. All that is left is that they are drunken sailors spending money they don’t have.

Zomcon JEM on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

I’d hang fire on…

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 10:56 AM

You’d hang fire? What state are you from? I don’t think I’ve heard that phrase.

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

That is Rick Perry – Right on top of the issues. He makes a good case and diffuses the issue right from the start.

Rick Perry 2016 – the only “experienced conservative” for President.

bzip on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

BTW – legalization or not – most employers will continue to test for it and on finding any trace will first force mandatory self help and then fire the user.

Zomcon JEM on January 24, 2014 at 11:00 AM

More tax revenue = bigger cars and offices and bonuses for politicians!

albill on January 24, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Perry’s approach is fine, I really don’t have any strong feelings on the issue.

Really there are two concerns I have right now and any candidate who doesn’t have the same feeling as I do on refusing Amnesty and repealing Obamacare will not get my vote. These are two issues where it doesn’t matter if a Republican is voted into office because the destruction of the country will just continue on if they are for Amnesty and/or keeping Obamacare.

Ukiah on January 24, 2014 at 11:05 AM

I’d hang fire on…

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 10:56 AM

You’d hang fire? What state are you from? I don’t think I’ve heard that phrase.

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

“Hang fire” is when a gun fails to fire because the bullet doesn’t exist the barrel completely. It’s just a fancy term for wait-and-see.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM

BTW – legalization or not – most employers will continue to test for it and on finding any trace will first force mandatory self help and then fire the user.

Zomcon JEM on January 24, 2014 at 11:00 AM

I definitely agree that SOME will continue to test. MOST? This is an expense that MOST companies might not want to bear… especially when they might end up eliminating some of their better employees.

However, if lawyers start throwing lawsuits at companies and find gold there, MOST companies will have to defend themselves with testing. (Example lawsuit: ObamaCare website is screwed up because contracted programmers had THC and Mountain Dew in their bloodstream therefore damages are awarded by idiot juries).

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM

It is a good strategy bzip.

He did the same thing months ago when he said that once the Mexican congress approves foreign investment in Mexican Oil and the economy improves that immigration reform will be a different story.

In other words secure the border and diffuse the social aspects/identity politics of the issue that the democrats are using…

A couple of months later the Mexican Congress did vote to open up investment since they need the money badly and American companies are poised to benefit as they help Mexico rebuild their infrastructure…

Smart politics…imho…

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 11:08 AM

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Is hanging fire a characteristic of certain guns?

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 11:09 AM

BTW – legalization or not – most employers will continue to test for it and on finding any trace will first force mandatory self help and then fire the user.

Zomcon JEM on January 24, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Heh. A dude I used to work for moved out to Colorado in the hopes of being able to live in a gloriously cannabis-entrenched environment. Unfortunately, stewing himself in THC has made him a lot less employable, a lesson he’s finding out the hard way despite years of management experience.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:09 AM

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Is hanging fire a characteristic of certain guns?

rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 11:09 AM

Statistically, yes, but it’s a rare phenomenon. A bullet from a hang fire is thought to be what killed Brandon Lee on the set of the crow. One bullet hung, and the next stage blank to be fired got the bullet the rest of the way out of the barrel.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM

The marketplace will ultimately determine pot use, when it becomes the scourge smoking has (even without the government restrictions), it will be less of an issue.

There’s nothing “cool” about walking around like a zombie.

Tater Salad on January 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM

My bad…a hang fire is a delay between pulling the trigger and firing. Most of the time it’s not noticeable, but sometimes it can be several seconds. A bullet trapped in the barrel is a “squib” or “squib load,” which is thought to be what killed Lee.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:14 AM

There’s nothing “cool” about walking around like a zombie.

Tater Salad on January 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Harold and Kumar beg to disagree.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:14 AM

It’s interesting that the Netherlands is taking a more conservative approach in adjusting their pot laws…

They’ve started to crackdown on the potshops who sell the stronger THC level pot and choom tourism…

THC levels in pot have increased from 9% to 18% since they’ve enacted the progressive legislation over there.

It’s not you’re Daddy’s weed anymore…

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM

And yes, squib loads are very rare not to mention dangerous.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Another guy with a drug problem talking about drugs. Get some help first. Then talk.

kcewa on January 24, 2014 at 11:16 AM

It’s interesting that the Netherlands is taking a more conservative approach in adjusting their pot laws…

They’ve started to crackdown on the potshops who sell the stronger THC level pot and choom tourism…

THC levels in pot have increased from 9% to 18% since they’ve enacted the progressive legislation over there.

It’s not you’re Daddy’s weed anymore…

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I don’t get what the big deal is. We have a wide variety of alcohols available here in the states ranging from low-point beer all the way to Everclear. Oh well.

gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 11:17 AM

BTW – legalization or not – most employers will continue to test for it and on finding any trace will first force mandatory self help and then fire the user.

Zomcon JEM on January 24, 2014 at 11:00 AM

I like both of your comments on this. Drug use is as personal an issue as healthcare.

Getting the Feds out of it and letting people vote with their feet is the best solution to almost every personal issue.

Employers do more to curb drug use than the Feds ever will, especially with something as easy to obtain as weed.

Mord on January 24, 2014 at 11:17 AM

It’ll be interesting to see what Abbott says…

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Decriminalize it. You do NOT want your government being in charge of anything. There’s a guy having to pay child support for “illegally” artificial insemination. Who made that illegal? The frigging government influenced by doctors not wanting the competition.
With legalization you’ll go to jail for growing “illegal” seeds. (See what I did there)?

http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/25/theres-a-big-difference-between-legalization-and-decriminalization/1/

LtGenRob on January 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM

I like both of your comments on this. Drug use is as personal an issue as healthcare.

Getting the Feds out of it and letting people vote with their feet is the best solution to almost every personal issue.

Employers do more to curb drug use than the Feds ever will, especially with something as easy to obtain as weed.

Mord on January 24, 2014 at 11:17 AM

How dare you post a reasonable libertarian marketplace point of view here at HA, you may offend some of the know-it-all’s (sarc intended).

Tater Salad on January 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM

Translation to younger voters: Now that we’ve practically doubled your tuition fees, forced you into a health insurance program that you can not afford or need, and left you in the unemployment lines, here, smoke this newest taxable substance, and enjoy life.

Cue the photo of the Zig Zag man.

Rovin on January 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM

Marajuana isn’t all bad…

Charlotte’s Web

Watch the short video at the top. Many people can benefit from hemp.

SauerKraut537 on January 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM

We do see some single-issue voters on abortion, but I’m unaware of any on pot, especially since until very recently both parties wanted to maintain the government prohibition on it.

Believe me, such voters do exist. Not in any significant numbers, but there are definitely many who would vote for anyone, of any party, that would promise to legalize weed. I know them personally.

Marijuana is about the only issue left that will energize college-age and graduate voters, especially now that they’re getting a good look at the costs associated with ObamaCare.

The interplay between ObamaCare and marijuana legalization is indeed politically interesting. I wonder though how aware marijuana legalizing proponents are of ObamaCare at all. I seriously don’t think that even still most of the dopes that voted for Obama have any clue that they are about to be forced to buy something that they can’t afford and that they don’t want or need.

Other than that, I think Perry is mostly a moron. He’s got Federalist cred, I’ll give him that. But has he apologized for or his association with the Aga Khan Foundation? Has he turned against it? If not, the guy is the Grover Norquist of Texas – strong on economics, but a jihad enabler. .

WhatSlushfund on January 24, 2014 at 11:25 AM

sorry that should be “…proponents are aware of ObamaCare…”

WhatSlushfund on January 24, 2014 at 11:26 AM

Nevermind. I had it right the first time. Turning off computer now…

WhatSlushfund on January 24, 2014 at 11:29 AM

If Gov. Perry runs again in 2016 it will be against DC…

And he’ll be better prepared…

Gig Em’

workingclass artist on January 24, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Perry is my preferred candidate for GOP nominee in 2016.

I’m in the legalization camp, so this ‘evolution’ does not bother me at all. In fact, it plays right into Perry’s take on federalism.

As Republicans, we need to be more consistent. It is fine to be socially conservative in private, but small government dictates a more laissez-faire stance on public policy, at least at the federal level.

That doesn’t mean we should not tear down big government laws and regulations that mandate a socially liberal public policy – but we should leave as much as possible to individuals and states.

DRayRaven on January 24, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Regardless of what gets done, the fact remains that on the issue of marijuana there has to be consistency. As it stands now we have a federal government that will not pursue legal action in states that have legalized marijuana. At some point this is going to create a legal nightmare.

DDay on January 24, 2014 at 11:55 AM

I disagree with Perry on this. I also disagree with marijuana legalization. I think its a terrible idea. But you know what? I would still vote for Perry in a heartbeat.

Jack_Burton on January 24, 2014 at 12:25 PM

I’d hang fire on… gryphon202 on January 24, 2014 at 10:56 AM

You’d hang fire? What state are you from? I don’t think I’ve heard that phrase. rhombus on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Thanks for the announcement.

Akzed on January 24, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Marajuana isn’t all bad… Charlotte’s Web Watch the short video at the top. Many people can benefit from hemp. SauerKraut537 on January 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM

A soon as weed is recognized as having medical benefits, it will cease to qualify as a Schedule I drug.

Akzed on January 24, 2014 at 12:38 PM

I don’t understand why Ed is conflating decriminalization with legalization here.

Perry says decrim, and Ed quotes polls on legalization. there certainly will be some who don’t see the distinction, but this seems a bit sloppy.

That said, I think Ed is correct that abortion is still the big enchilada for socons.

Meremortal on January 24, 2014 at 12:44 PM

It should be a state issue. However, drugs should always be against the law and users and distributors should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Drugs are harmful to an individual, including marijuana, and they are even more damaging to society.

If the state wants to be a cesspool and legalize drugs, that’s their call. But they better enforce their state borders and prevent users from leaving their state of anarchy.

njrob on January 24, 2014 at 1:00 PM

As Republicans, we need to be more consistent. It is fine to be socially conservative in private, but small government dictates a more laissez-faire stance on public policy, at least at the federal level.

That doesn’t mean we should not tear down big government laws and regulations that mandate a socially liberal public policy – but we should leave as much as possible to individuals and states.

DRayRaven on January 24, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Bullshit. You are either a 3-legged conservative or you are not. Don’t you tell me I have to practice my beliefs in private. I won’t do it with my faith. I won’t do it with my conservatism. I am not ashamed of my beliefs and I will fight you till the end of time for my right to do so. How dare you tell me to shut up and not defend my beliefs in public. You are as anti to the 1st amendment as any leftist out there. Scum.

njrob on January 24, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Over the last couple of days, I’ve argued that the White House has begun to set up another “evolution” on a social issue that plays strongly among younger voters — marijuana legalization — and that Republicans would likely have to keep pace with the change.

It’s not just young voters. The bigger the government gets, the more libertarians you get. The libertarians want legal weed.

So Obama has figured out he can probably get a slice of the libertarian vote by talking about MJ legalization.

And the sad thing is, it will probably work. There are far too many libertarians perfectly willing to vote for the biggest of big government fascists if they can get their weed.

You can argue those people are not really libertarians. Maybe not. But as far as the Dems go, the “legalize weed” crowd is just another special interests group they can appeal to.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 24, 2014 at 1:16 PM

As Republicans, we need to be more consistent. It is fine to be socially conservative in private, but small government dictates a more laissez-faire stance on public policy, at least at the federal level.

That doesn’t mean we should not tear down big government laws and regulations that mandate a socially liberal public policy – but we should leave as much as possible to individuals and states.

DRayRaven on January 24, 2014 at 11:33 AM

With all due respect, to say “it is fine to be socially conservative in private” is meaningless. It’s like giving people permission to believe what they want.

It’s meaningless because you couldn’t prevent them from doing it anyway.

But the implication is clear: no one should promote socially conservative views or practices in public.

This is just wrong. But the reason we don’t have federalism is because the federal government has arrogated to itself the right to dictate to all local and state governments what they can and cannot regulate.

No state or local government can regulate contraceptives, because SCOTUS declared that the Constitution prevents it. And every time someone, such as Santorum, criticizes that decision, people just attack him for wanting to regulate contraceptives, rather than recognize that the SCOTUS decision was just wrong. The Constitution DOES NOT address contraceptives, or laws about sexual morality, or laws about marriage. All of those are delegated to the states and to the people.

And now we have federal judges declaring that any laws that reject the concept of same-sex marriage violate the Constitution, as if the Constitution had one thing to say about marriage laws.

If you really want federalism, then you should be against the national government meddling in state marriage laws, and against the national government telling state and local governments that they can’t regulate porn, or contraceptives, or whatever.

The federal government has slopped over the boundaries of the 9th and 10th Amendments, and we all have to live with the consequences.

Fine. But too many people hypocritically talk about federalism only on their pet issues.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 24, 2014 at 1:28 PM

Big government libertines.

Murphy9 on January 24, 2014 at 1:55 PM

The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs wonders whether his “liberal stance”

It’s NOT a liberal stance you jackwagons.

John the Libertarian on January 24, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Rick Perry 2016 – the only “experienced conservative” for President.

bzip on January 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Beyond that, Perry knows the pitfalls of an out of control interpretation of the 10th Amendment. I happen to believe that the restoration of the 10th Amendment is the key to recovering Liberty in America.

Perry is really our best shot for 2016 to Transform Obarky’s America. And Jay Sekulow for AG.

NOMOBO on January 24, 2014 at 2:26 PM

My qotd comment:

RICK PERRY — the most “right wing severest conservative” of them all… has come out for decriminalization.

With all the evidence that the brutal invasive drug war actually increases drug addiction, how can any conservative now stand with the old guard authoritarian nanny staters on this? Check out this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/07/05/ten-years-after-decriminalization-drug-abuse-down-by-half-in-portugal/

anotherJoe on January 24, 2014 at 2:35 PM

And the sad thing is, it will probably work. There are far too many libertarians perfectly willing to vote for the biggest of big government fascists if they can get their weed.

You can argue those people are not really libertarians. Maybe not. But as far as the Dems go, the “legalize weed” crowd is just another special interests group they can appeal to.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 24, 2014 at 1:16 PM

I will argue exactly that. Sorry, but the folks you just described aren’t libertarians. They are more accurately referred to as libertines. If someone will accept big government in exchange for laissez faire on a substance, they are either addicted to the substance, or the free-for-all lifestyle that goes with it, which always ends up including disdain for the law.

Somebody pretending to use the label libertarian only so that they can seem rational about their militant pro-druggie activism, is going to vote Democrat every time anyway.

Now, those people who are ardently against all criminalization of drug use, AND are also ardently for minimal government control of society, those are libertarians. Any of them who would vote liberal based on the single issue of drug laws is a traitor to their own philosophy.

Freelancer on January 24, 2014 at 8:36 PM