Most sitting world leaders aren't ready to call for marijuana legalization yet -- but they may be inching there, as a discussion Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, showed.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan all talked about taking a less punitive approach toward drugs. Perry reiterated his opposition to marijuana legalization -- but also repeated his position that it's a matter that should be left up to the states.
"I am not for legalization of drugs," Perry said. "We certainly would never jump out in front of a parade because that's where the public seems to be going."
Perry did not call for decriminalization, a less drastic step that replaces criminal penalties for drug possession with the rough equivalent of a parking ticket. But the governor did highlight his state's continued use of drug courts, an alternative to imprisonment for some low-level offenders that often involves treatment.
"We don't spend as much much money on incarceration as we do on education in the state of Texas -- and that's a good thing," Perry said.
His remarks are in line with those made recently by other GOP governors. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signaled some willingness Wednesday to allow medical marijuana under strict conditions, and Chris Christie called Tuesday for more emphasis on treatment, saying the war on drugs was a failure.
"Don't get confused that we are soft on crime," Perry said. But he repeated his long-stated position that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution means it should be up to the states to decide whether they want to legalize marijuana, as Colorado and Washington have done.
Around the world more and more leaders -- and former leaders -- are calling for at least drug decriminalization. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has called for legalization, and Annan and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said in a November op-ed that drug use shouldn't be criminalized. Colombia has already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine under Santos' watch.
But on Thursday, Santos stopped short of calling for the full-scale legalization of any drugs, seemingly his personal red line. He did say, however, that legalization is an issue worth studying -- as the Organization of American States is currently doing -- especially since some reform has already begun in the United States.
How could he tell a Colombian peasant growing marijuana he has to go to jail, Santos asked, when it's already legal in the U.S.?
The panel at Davos was an indication that world leaders are increasingly taking the debate over ending the war on drugs seriously. But even legalization is still viewed as a violation of international drug control treaties by the U.N., which Annan suggested could be changed.
"Certain heads of state don't even touch the issue -- they touch it after they're heads of state," Santos said of the drug debate. "Why? Because it's so sensitive."
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