When Pat Robertson first called for the decriminalization of marijuana back in 2010, the famed evangelical minister and political figure set off a firestorm of controversy among his supporters and delighted his critics. As I reported then, 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..."
Robertson's exact words at the time were:
"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 the part that went further than revisiting the severity of sentencing laws-- going so far as to advocate decriminalization-- (CBN's post hoc rationalizations notwithstanding) was when Robertson said:
"We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes, and that’s one of them."
Then he said:
"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."
Still, after his network's insistent backpedaling, it was easy to wonder whether Robertson's surprisingly liberal comments were just a brief lapse in judgment by an often excitable and mercurial television personality. (He abruptly and totally changed his views about global warming one year just because the country was having an unusually hot summer.)
But now there can be no doubting where Pat Robertson stands on drug policy in the United States after he made another televised call for the legalization of marijuana earlier this month. Except for the part where he bizarrely blames liberals for stiff sentencing laws, the following excerpt from his program could have been something written by Glenn Greenwald:
"We here in America make up 5% of the world's population, but we make up 25% of jailed prisoners... Every time the liberals pass a bill -- I don't care what it involves -- they stick criminal sanctions on it. They don't feel there is any way people are going to keep a law unless they can put them in jail. I became sort of a hero of the hippie culture, I guess, when I said I think we ought to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. I just think it's shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of controlled substance. The whole thing is crazy... We've said, 'we're 'conservative, we're tough on crime.' That's baloney. It's costing us billions and billions of dollars. Think of California. California is spending more money on prisons than it spends on schools. There's something wrong about that equation. We need to scrub the federal code and the state codes and take away these criminal penalties. Putting people in jail at huge expense to the population is insanity. Folks, we've gotta do something about this. We've just got to change the laws. We cannot allow this to continue. It is sapping our vitality. Think of this great land of freedom. We have the highest rate of incarceration of any nation on the face of the Earth. That's a shocking statistic."
Robertson went on to suggest that marijuana should be treated like alcohol by our justice system, which is actually a ballot proposal in California right now. While public opinion surveys suggest that Robertson is probably in the minority among white evangelicals, with only 25% of them supporting marijuana legalization in 2010, his now repeated plea for a more sane drug policy could very well widen the Overton Window just in time for California's legalization advocates to jump through it this November.