File this under just plain unexpected: television evangelist Pat Robertson, known for his inflammatory comments about gay marriage, Islam, and a host of other issues, said last week on his show on the Christian Broadcasting Network that although he didn’t believe that using drugs was right, criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana didn’t make sense.
“I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda 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.”
The comment was part of a segment on faith-based prison rehabilitation, which is something of a separate issue, and it surprised liberal groups who have traditionally seen themselves as completely at odds with Robertson. This is because Robertson has said some breathtakingly offensive things, like his claim that the Haiti earthquake was the result of a pact with the devil, or that Hurricane Katrina resulted from abortion and moral decay. But pro-legalization groups still seized on the comment as evidence that the legalization of marijuana is gaining support not just among liberals, but within the religious right.
“His voice is respected by hundreds of thousands or millions of people who might not otherwise think about this issue seriously. His comments were a very important step forward,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Washington Post. “The only way that this country’s going to end up with more sensible and sane drug laws is if people call for it from across the political spectrum.”
Robertson doesn’t seem anxious to stand by his comments, though; a spokesman for CBN said in an email that Robertson was “unequivocally” against illegal drug use, and does not support legalization of marijuana. The CBN spokesman explained that Robertson was calling for the government to reconsider the severity of sentencing for marijuana possession, not decriminalization of the drug. It’s not hard to believe that that’s what Robertson did actually mean, but it’s still a surprising position – although I’m not sure it heralds new support for decriminalization of marijuana among the religious right.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.