The state of Texas was hit with surprising news all the way from Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum when Rep. Governor Rick Perry announced on Thursday that he supports the decriminalization - not legalization - of marijuana.
"As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization," Perry said during an international panel on drug legalization at the WEF.
Perry still holds onto the stance that marijuana should remain illegal in Texas, but went on to state that there should be less severe penalties implemented for a minor offense. He introduced the possibility of alternative "drug courts" that implement these penalties.
"The point is that after 40 years of the war on drugs, I can't change what happened in the past," Perry said. "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."
The Texas Governor spoke alongside former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Columbian President Juan Manual Santos.
Rick Perry further emphasized that although he is not for the legalization of marijuana, he believes every state has the right to make its own decisions. He cited the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to support Colorado's decision to decriminalize marijuana and other states' decisions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues.
Perry also stated that the issue does not involve only the United States, but other countries too should make progress in making such decisions about decriminalizing marijuana.
"So I think there's some innovation that goes on in the states that can translate not just to Oklahoma or California or New York, but to Switzerland, to France, to other countries that have this drug issue facing them," Perry added. "That there are some alternatives without going that big full step and decriminalizing and sending a message to people that it's OK."
Perry's spokesperson, Lucy Nashed, confirmed that Perry staunchly opposed to the legalization of marijuana and added that he's only looking to reform the policies that could reduce the punishment for offenders.
"Legalization is no penalty at all, whereas 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 said in an article by San Antonio Express News. "The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing."
According to Texas state laws, an offender with less than 2 ounces of marijuana can be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. An offender with more than 5 pounds faces up to two years in jail.
Meanwhile in Texas, Ana Yañez-Correa, director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group that favors drug treatment over incarceration for marijuana possession, expressed her shock regarding Perry's message.
"Shocked. The decriminalization of marijuana is not something Perry has historically supported," Correa said. "Perry has gone through a shift; he's evolved. He represents the transition the state has gone through from being really, really tough on crime to being more sensible about it."