Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he thinks states ought to be able to experiment with drug policy, but that he opposes legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use in Texas, where he said the use of drug courts to find alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders has proven successful.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as part of a panel on the “drugs dilemma” that also included Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Perry said he feared entirely removing the penalties for drug use would send the wrong signal, and cited former Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s recent criticism of President Barack Obama for suggesting that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.
In an interview on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball” on Monday, the former Democratic Rhode Island representative, and the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, said that marijuana is different, and far more dangerous, than when the president tried it when he was young, and that legalizing pot would lead to increased use of an “insidious” drug that puts people on “a slow train to nowhere.”
Annan, who said the war on drugs had exacted a horrendous price of its own, asked if it was true that the United States spends more on incarceration than education.
“We don’t spend as much money on incarceration as we do on education in the state of Texas, and that’s a good thing,” Perry said.
Enrique Acevedo, a Mexican journalist and Univision host, who moderated the panel, which was live-streamed, noted that Texas still had one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.
“I haven’t been governor of Texas forever,” Perry said.
“Well, 13 years is a pretty long time,” Acevedo shot back.
Perry said it would not be good for public officials to simply jump in front of a growing “parade” of support for decriminalization, just because the movement appeared to be gaining popularity.
“Did we fight the war on drugs correctly every day? No,” said Perry. “Has the war on terrorism been fought correctly every day? No.”
“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. … There are some alternatives without going that big full step and decriminalizing and sending a message to people that it’s OK.”
The visit to Davos in the Swiss Alps represented the governor’s first appearance at the prestigious invitation-only event, which continues through Saturday.