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March 9, 2012

Tipping point?: Pat Robertson joins crowd eager to end pot prohibition

I have long thought that true conservatives and not just libertarians ought to be drawn to arguments for ending modern pot prohibitions, and the news this week that Pat Robertson joined the chorus calling for marijuana legalization seems to confirm my political instincts here.  This new Time piece provides some context for this story under the headline "How a Far-Right Icon Came to Embrace Marijuana Legalization: Pat Robertson wants to decriminalize the use of marijuana.  Here's why.":

The other day, we got solid proof that the media is biased toward the left.  On a cable-news show seen by millions, a white-haired host declared that although the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it detains a quarter of the world’s prisoners.  “I just think it’s shocking to see how many of these young people wind up in prison,” he said.  “And then they get turned into hard-core criminals because they have possession of a small amount of a controlled substance. The whole thing is crazy.”

It’s a sensible position. Strikingly, it came from the host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club” — right-wing icon Pat Robertson.  He went on to say that mere possession of pot should be decriminalized.  The 40-year-old “700 Club” isn’t known for advancing liberal causes....

Robertson has crept slowly into his pro-legalization position on marijuana. In 2010, he said on the “700 Club” that people shouldn’t get long prison terms for taking “a couple puffs of marijuana.”  Shortly afterward, his New York City-based spokesman, Chris Roslan, issued a statement saying Robertson “unequivocally” opposes the use of any drugs.  And yet when I spoke with Roslan on Thursday, he told me that Robertson now favors decriminalization of pot smoking.

“If people can go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol and drink at home legally, then why do we say that the use of this other substance is somehow criminal?” Robertson asked a New York Times reporter recently.  He went on to say that imprisoning people made it more it more difficult to reach their hearts with a Christian message....

[T]here’s little evidence that marijuana is dangerous (and as Robertson points out, accurately, it’s certainly no more dangerous than alcohol).  There’s also a decent body of evidence that pot has health benefits when used in moderation.  In virtually every study, marijuana proves to be far less addictive than alcohol, let alone drugs like cocaine or heroin (here is one good summary — scroll down to the comparative ratings). Smoking marijuana does carry the same risks as smoking tobacco — lung and esophageal cancers — but there’s no good data showing that these risks outweigh the risks of liver problems from drinking....

Liberal advocates who work for a treatment-based approach to addiction rather than an incarceration approach have hailed Robertson’s comments as common sense in the debate over drugs.  But most conservatives have remained silent since his call for legalization. The Christian-right group Focus on the Family released a quiet statement reiterating its opposition to drug legalization.  Still, maybe Robertson’s comments will push some of his viewers to reconsider the hard-line approach to drug policy so dominant on the right since at least the ’60s, when “The 700 Club” first went on the air.  If Pat Robertson can be convinced that marijuana should be decriminalized, that may give cover to G.O.P. members of Congress who are already wavering on the issue.

As the title to my post hints, I cannot help but wonder if (and hope that) Robertson's new advocacy on this front might serve as something of a tipping point on some of the recent modern debates over pot policy.  If pot legalization advocate were shrewd, they can and should see what they can do to make Robertson the face of their movement, especially in places like Colorado where having significant evangelical support for ending pot prohibition might be the key to having a ballot initiative on this front succeed.

A variety of pot legalization advocates have done a good job pressing their issues in various on-line political settings, but the involvement of (one-time presidential candidate) Robertson presents lots of new advocacy potential.  I certainly think all major GOP figures — ranging from candidates like Romney and Santorum to high-profile former candidates like Palin and Huckabee to current leaders like Boehner and Cantor — ought to be asked repeated and pointed questions about whether they agree with Robertson's views on pot policy and mass incarceration.  (Perhaps they should also be asked, with tongue only party in cheek, whether think the Obama Administration's ugly record on pot policy is really just a key part of its "war on religion.")

Some recent and older related posts: 

March 9, 2012 at 10:55 AM | Permalink


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I think it is the tipping point. Right now 14% Americans have an arrest record. This is largely due to the war on drugs. Let's say that each of these individuals has five family members who support them. That would be about 70% of the population who would be questioning the criminal justice system. This lack of support is unsustainable.

The number of people who are incarcerated has increased 600% since 1972. This is largely due to the war on drugs. Individuals serving life without parole increased 22% in the five years between 1003 and 2008. Many of these are non-violent drug offenders.

Democrats and Republicans should take note. Perhaps you may have seen the slogan One Issue Voter. Independents, libertarians, and progressives are all on the same page with the legalization of marijuana. Each party needs them. If a third party emerges, it most certainly will not win, but it will defeat the party that is most associated with a hard line on prohibition. Both parties are talking about waste and reform, this is an issue of both fiscal responsibility and civil liberties.

When you see the ACLU and Grover Norquist's Right on Crime come together for criminal justice reform, you know that the issue has legs.

Posted by: beth | Mar 9, 2012 1:12:01 PM

If you have to count on the ancient, Bible-thumping Pat Robertson for galvanizing the pro-pot side, then you are indeed at the tipping point, just not in the way you think.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 9, 2012 2:39:34 PM

"[T]here’s little evidence that marijuana is dangerous (and as Robertson points out, accurately, it’s certainly no more dangerous than alcohol)."

So the best answer is not to legalize pot but to prohibit alcohol.

Oh, wait...

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 9, 2012 3:37:33 PM


Your proposal is The Real McCoy.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Mar 9, 2012 4:12:47 PM

Bill, I don't think anyone's depending on him for a bit of heavy lifting. That would be a long wait.

Posted by: beth | Mar 9, 2012 4:26:48 PM

I almost have to agree with Bill here - on the list of persons who you want supporting your position, a snake oil salesman like Pat Robertson is pretty close to the bottom of the list.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Mar 9, 2012 5:25:43 PM

LOL how true erika! of course it could be worse! Could have a lineup of Republican and Democratic lierticians! pushing for it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 9, 2012 9:05:56 PM

Robertson doesn't understand what Bill does - that anyone who is in favor of legalizing marijuana must necessarily be in favor of legalizing heroin, bcause there is absolutely no way to distinguish heroin from marijuana.

Posted by: will | Mar 9, 2012 10:58:10 PM

i understand it. The problem i see is that in this country your supposed to have the right to do what you want. UNLESS it interfeers with anyone elses right to do what they want!

you want to stuff yourself full of drugs or food. Well as long as you don't STEAL IT...know your self out!
as long as you don't mess up my home or proopety while you do it. Again KNOCK yourself out!
nature will quickly remove the ones dumb enough to OVERUSE it! and law enforcment can deal with the ones who STEAL
or violate the law to do it!

In the mean time! TAX the hell out of it. from one end of the distribution chain to the end user!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 10, 2012 2:03:51 AM

will --

Take it up with CCDC. He's the one pushing total legalization, not me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 10, 2012 6:48:38 AM

Bill --

I know you're not pushing "total" legalization. Are you pushing legalization of some sort though? Some drugs? Some uses (e.g., medical)?

Posted by: will | Mar 10, 2012 2:10:15 PM

Pat Robertson thinks the Hatians made a deal with the devil and doing Karate invites demons to enter your body and turns you into a force for evil. Really, I'd prefer a different spokesperson for this issue. Someone like Snoop Dog.

Posted by: Bill B. | Mar 12, 2012 4:41:16 PM

that anyone who is in favor of legalizing marijuana must necessarily be in favor of legalizing heroin, bcause there is absolutely no way to distinguish heroin from marijuana.

Really? And what do you base this nonsense on?

Posted by: Anon | Mar 13, 2012 8:38:33 AM

Bill B., I'm thinking Yukmouth

Erkia :)

Posted by: virginia | Mar 13, 2012 11:26:40 AM

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