To the shock of commentators across the political and religious spectrum, conservative Christian televangelist, Pat Robertson actually told his television viewers earlier this week that "criminalizing marijuana... not a good thing."
Robertson cited reasons that you would expect to hear from a twenty-something-year-old supporter of Proposition 19. The Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs Robertson's show The 700 Club, went swiftly into damage control mode, sending out a statement to clarify Robertson's words through CBN spokesman, Chris Roslan:
"Dr. Robertson did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana. 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."
During his program, Pat Robertson certainly did say that mandatory drug sentences are too severe:
"We're locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they've got ten years, they've got mandatory sentences, and these judges just say- they throw up their hands and say there's nothing we can do, it's mandatory sentences."
But Robertson went a step further than that when he said:
"We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes, and that's one of them."
That's a pretty clear statement in favor of decriminalizing marijuana use, not simply reducing the severity of the sentencing for marijuana violations. Robertson went on to say:
"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 kind of 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."
Pat Robertson's comments were so shocking because even mainstream Americans do not seem quite ready to legalize marijuana, as evidenced by the November defeat of the Tax Cannabis initiative at the ballot boxes of blue-state California. It was truly surprising for Americans to hear the 80-year-old preacher and former candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination express support for decriminalizing marijuana. We couldn't even get Barbara Boxer to do that!
In addition to the drug issue, Robertson and his co-host seemed concerned about America's dysfunctional prison systems in general. In their view, actually rehabilitating people is more effective, affordable, and compassionate. "Bleeding hearts" everywhere might have found it gratifying to hear even Pat Robertson criticizing a common election-season bromide when he said:
"He's tough on crime, tough on crime, lock 'em up! You know and that's the way these guys ran and they got elected, but that wasn't the answer."