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Rick Perry in favor of marijuana decriminalization

Texas Governor Rick Perry said Thursday that he's open to marijuana decriminalization in his state.
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 18, 2013.
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 18, 2013.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said Thursday that he is in favor of softening penalties for pot users, touting strides his state has made towards decriminalizing marijuana use. 

"As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization," Perry said at a World Economic Forum panel on drug legalization in Davos, Switzerland. Perry proposed the idea of alternative "drug courts" that provide treatment options and softer punishment for minor offenses. 

The governor, who joined a panel that included former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and Colombian President Juan Manuel, pressed that states maintain the right to legalize the drug.

"States should be allowed to make those decisions," he said.

"After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past," Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. "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."

His spokesman Lucy Nashed confirmed to The Washington Post that Perry remains opposed to the legalization of the drug, but "has long supported diversionary and rehabilitative programs, like the drug courts we have in Texas that have proven results."

Perry has long been opposed to legalizing marijuana but has never gone so far as to support decriminalizing it. 

"Legalization is no penalty at all, where as 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," Nashed told the San Antonio Express-News. "The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing."

According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, over 15,000 people are in Texas jails solely for  possession of drugs. An offender with less than two ounces of marijuana, which is considered a misdemeanor, can be incarcerated up to 180 days and be fined a maximum of $2,000. An offender with five pounds or more, considered a felony, faces up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

A recent poll by the Marijuana Policy Project show 58% of Texans support legalizing, regulating and taxing small amounts of marijuana. In addition, 61% support reducing penalties for possession of a small amount.