Republican governors in the traditionally conservative states of Louisiana and Texas have issued statements to the effect that they are willing to soften their stance on marijuana.
On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry told an international panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that “I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization.”
A spokeswoman for Perry, Lucy Nashed, clarified the governor’s statement, telling the San Antonio Express News that legalization means “no penalty at all, whereas 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.”
“The goal,” Nashed said, “is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing.”
Bills advocating the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana have been introduced to the Texas state legislature during Perry’s tenure in office, but have failed to make it out of committee.
Perry did not address the medicinal use of marijuana in his statement, but his Republican compatriot to the east, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, told The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Wednesday that he would be “open” to the idea of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.
According to his spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, the governor “would be open to making medical marijuana available under strict circumstances,” but would be opposed to all other forms of legalization. He made his statements in response to a meeting by the Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice in which they discussed the state’s harsh penalties for marijuana possession.
Currently, if charged with possession with intent to distribute in the company of a minor, offenders can be sentenced to 45-90 years in jail. As of June 2013, 1,372 Louisianians were serving an average of 8.4 years for simple marijuana possession, and another 10 were serving life sentences for multiple possession charges.
Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that 78 percent of incarcerated marijuana users were black, whereas only 32.4 percent of the state’s population is. “We are arresting our friends and neighbors in racially disproportionate numbers for simple possession of marijuana,” she said.
[Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R), image via Wikimedia, Creative Commons licensed]