A day after blowing the collective mind of the drug policy blogosphere by saying weed ought to be legalized, TV evangelist Pat Robertson was having second thoughts. The "700 Club" host and one-time presidential candidate told the New York Times the next day that he did not intend to suggest support for marijuana legalization, but only to question the severity of the punishments meted out to those who use or possess small amounts of the herb.
In a "700 Club" broadcast discussing the new conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime, Robertson launched into a heartfelt, if factually challenged, diatribe about the injustice of the country's marijuana laws.
"We're locking up people that take a couple puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they've got 10 years," Robertson said. "They've got mandatory sentences; the judges throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do. We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes, and that's one of them. "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 of a few ounces of pot, that kind of thing is just costing us a fortune and ruining young people. Young people going to prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals, and that's not a good thing," said the culturally conservative preacher.
Wednesday, after the Internet hubbub over his "700 Club" remarks, a spokesman for Robertson emailed media outlets (including the StoptheDrugWar.org Speakeasy blog) to clarify. He wasn't really calling for marijuana decriminalization, the spokesman said.
"Dr. Robertson did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana," the email explained. "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. 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."
Supporting pot legalization is still a bridge too far for the man who once famously blamed legal abortion for Hurricane Katrina, but at least he's coming out for the reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences. That's as far as Right On Crime goes too, at least on its web page. In its issue pages on prisons and substance abuse, it calls for considering repeal of mandatory minimums and increased use of drug courts.
(Watch the CBN video footage here.)