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Shock: Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson favors marijuana legalization

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Robertson a welcome addition to drug reform circles, former narc tells Raw Story

Update: Following publication of this story, a spokesman for the religious CBN television station contacted Raw Story to clarify Robertson’s comments. His statement is reflected in the text below.

Count this among the 10 things nobody ever expected to see in their lifetimes: 700 Club founder Pat Robertson, one of the cornerstone figures of America’s Christian right movement, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana.

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Calling it getting “smart” on crime, Robertson aired a clip on a recent episode of his 700 Club television show that advocated the viewpoint of drug law reformers who run prison outreach ministries.

A narrator even claimed that religious prison outreach has “saved” millions in public funds by helping to reduce the number of prisoners who return shortly after being released.

“It got to be a big deal in campaigns: ‘He’s tough on crime,’ and ‘lock ’em up!'” the Christian Coalition founder said. “That’s the way these guys ran and, uh, they got elected. But, that wasn’t the answer.”

His co-host added that the success of religious-run dormitories for drug and alcohol cessation therapy present an “opportunity” for faith-based communities to lead the way on drug law reforms.

“We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” Robertson continued. “These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ’em.

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“I’m … I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That’s not a good thing.”

Robertson has in recent years come under fire for increasingly flamboyant comments, such as calling for the assassinations of foreign leaders and blaming gay people for the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

In this instance, even though he clearly expressed support for the reform of US marijuana laws, a spokesman for religious television station CBN walked back Robertson’s comments, telling Raw Story on Thursday morning the Christian Coalition founder “did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana.”

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“He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals,” CBN spokesman Chris Roslan wrote. “He was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. Dr. Robertson’s comments followed a CBN News story about a group of conservatives who have proven that faith-based rehabilitation for criminals has resulted in lower repeat offenders and saved the government millions of dollars. Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs.”

Conservatives signing up for drug policy reform

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The segment, while significant for illustrating a key conservative stalwart’s shifting opinion on the drug war, was mainly a plug for a new conservative group called “Right on Crime,” which parlays the arguments of groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) into conservative-leaning messages.

“Our marijuana prohibition laws, which send people to prison for merely possessing a plant, are clearly immoral,” LEAP executive director Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics officer, told Raw Story.

“As a Christian, and as a former law enforcer who is now working to undo the damage these laws have done to our families and our communities, I’m glad to see Pat Robertson joining the chorus of faith leaders calling for reform.”

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Some faith-based groups, like the Council of Churches and Church IMPACT, also helped promote California’s failed Prop. 19 ballot initiative, which would have legalized marijuana cultivation, sales and consumption by adults over 21-years-old. It failed to gain a majority in the state’s 2010 elections.

President Obama has maintained his opposition to the legalization of marijuana, although his Department of Justice has largely taken a hands-off approach to states where voters have approved the drug’s use if prescribed by a doctor.

Pat Robertson was a Republican candidate for the presidency in 1980, but saw his political ambitions dashed in the primaries by Ronald Reagan. Though he later earned Robertson’s endorsement, President Reagan went on to significantly escalate the war on America’s drug users.

This video is from the 700 Club, broadcast by the CBN Network. (Segment on marijuana law reform is at beginning.)

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