The Washington Post notes that televangelist Pat Robertson, who endorsed marijuana legalization in 2012, has changed his mind. On his Christian Broadcasting Network today, Robertson had this to say about legalization in Colorado:
"Rocky Mountain High." [John Denver] was talking about the nice clean air in the Rocky Mountains. He wasn't talking about what's happening in a state that legalized marijuana. Now everybody—the little kids are getting high. They've got marijuana cupcakes and marijuana soft drinks. Marijuana gummy bears! Oh, do you want your little eighth-grader to be stoned when he goes to school? Well, welcome to Colorado, where pot is legal….
You know, I have been one that has been very much against the incredible incarceration rate in the United States of America, where we have made this country a nation of criminals. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country on the face of the earth, more so than mainland China, more so than Russia. And what are we doing? We are locking people up for the possession of marijuana. So what I have wanted, and I think it's a right cause, is the decriminalization of marijuana.
But apparently the next step is the legalization of it, which is a totally different matter. It's the full-scale spread of this stuff, and it is not good for people's health. It's destroying their minds and destroying their lungs. And the addiction is pretty heavy, and it's also a gateway drug into the heavier stuff like cocaine and crack—whatever else is out there besides heroin, etc. There's so many ways. They're sniffing glue. These kids find more ways to destroy themselves. But the citizens of Colorado have got to face the issue. Decriminalization…that's smart. But opening the doors so little kids can buy marijuana gummy bears…
Contrary to what Robertson said today, he did not merely support decriminalizing possession of marijuana; he told The New York Times in 2012 that "we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," which means legalizing production and sale. It is true that his concerns about marijuana policy, which he began to voice in 2010, mostly had to do with excessive penalties for users. As Mike Riggs noted here in 2012, Robertson was (and clearly still is) under the misimpression that a large share of drug offenders in American prisons are there because they were caught with small amounts of pot. That is clearly not true. If Robertson is truly concerned about our country's appallingly high incarceration rate (and he certainly seems to be), he should be talking about people serving years or decades for offenses involving "the harder stuff" (as well as marijuana production and sale).
None of which means that it's fair or sensible to continue arresting hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers every year. Even if they typically do not spend much time behind bars, they suffer the humiliation, inconvenience, and cost of being treated like criminals, including collateral penalties such as lasting damage to their employment prospects. Robertson still seems to think that people should not be arrested for using marijuana. But if so, why should people be arrested for supplying that marijuana? If consumption is not properly treated as a crime, neither is aiding and abetting consumption. That is the moral logic of moving from decriminalization of use to decriminalization of cultivation and distribution, a logic Robertson seemed to be following until now.
Robertson's reasons for backpedaling make no sense. The marijuana edibles that offend him have been legally available to patients in Colorado for years. The only difference now is that adults 21 and older can purchase such products without obtaining a doctor's note. Contrary to what Robertson seems to think, state-licensed pot stores do not serve 20-year-olds, let alone eighth-graders or "little kids." They are punctilious about checking customers' IDs to make sure they are at least 21. And as I pointed out last week, so far there is no evidence that the loosening of Colorado's marijuana laws, which began in 2001, has led to more underage consumption.
Robertson may even be wrong about John Denver, who discussed his own use of marijuana (as well as LSD and cocaine) in his 1994 autobiography Take Me Home. It is a matter of debate whether "Rocky Mountain High"—which includes the line, "Friends around the campfire and everybody's high"—is merely about the beauty of a meteor shower in the Rockies.