Marijuana decriminalization goes mainstream

We’ve finally found an issue on which even President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry can agree: most marijuana users shouldn’t be going to jail.

Perry, one of the most conservative governors in the country and a sharp critic of the president, said this week at an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that “as governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization” of marijuana, according to the San Antonio Express News. At the same time, his aides emphasized that Perry opposed making the drug legal, as California and Colorado have done, because of its negative health effects.

Those comments closely mirrored what the president said a few days earlier in an interview with The New Yorker. 

“I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” Obama said, before adding, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”

The comments reflect an emerging consensus on both the left and the right that in a time of tight budgets at the state and federal level, reducing the number of people in prison would save billions and one way to accomplish that goal is keeping non-violent drug users, particularly those who have only used marijuana, out of jail. Attorney General Eric Holder, with Obama’s backing, is pressing for legislation to make it easier for judges to reduce sentences some drug crimes, and Tea Party senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are among those supporting that effort.

The Los Angeles Times reported recently that five states, including California and Florida, could have initiatives on the ballot this fall to make marijuana legal. In another high-profile signal of support, Bill Gates told Buzzfeed that he voted for the marijuana legalization ballot initiative in the state of Washington during the 2012 election.

Obama and Holder have suggested this gradual retreat from the long “war on drugs” will disproportionately benefit minorities.

“African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties,” Obama said this week.