Pot and the preacher

    As the old saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows. And no sackmates seem stranger – at first glance – than Pat Robertson and marijuana.You all know Robertson, the Christian Coalition founder and TV evangelist who generously shares his life wisdom on The 700 Club. At various times he has offered to fix the State Department (“maybe we need a very small nuke…to shake things up”), he has advised women about their marital relationships (“Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period”), and he has seconded the belief (voiced by Jerry Falwell) that gays and lesbians helped provoke the terrorists to attack us on 9/11.So, in light of that track record, it was a tad startling to hear Robertson hold forth, on his Dec. 16 show, about the destructive criminal laws against marijuana. Check out this:”We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know, they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences. These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say ‘nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences.’ We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ’em.”And this:”I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, 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.”Late last week, a Robertson spokesman naturally tried to walk back the comments, by insisting that the reverend “did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana” and that he had “unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs.” The spokesman was narrowly correct on both counts. But Robertson is clearly in sync with the burgeoning mainstream view that it’s nuts to keep busting pot users.And when a Christian conservative leader – someone who generally supports government enforcement of moral standards – speaks tolerantly about marijuana, or at least about the lunacy of criminalization (roughly 800,000 Americans are busted for possession annually), that event by itself signals that the status quo is incrementally crumbling.Gallup reported in October that 46 percent of Americans (a record high) now favor legalization, while 50 percent (a record low) oppose it. The most telling statistic is that 61 percent of young adults, aged 18 to 29, favor it – which suggests that eventual legalization, much like gay marriage, is a demographic certainty. But what’s also striking is that a record 30 percent of conservatives now favor it – partly out of concern for the overburdened jail system (as Robertson mentioned), and partly because there is a libertarian belief that government should butt out of people’s personal lives.Interestingly, Robertson uttered his remarks on the same day that a marijuana trial collapsed in Montana. Perhaps you’ve heard about this case. A criminal defendant in the town of Missoula was slated to be tried by a jury on charges of selling weed, and possession of a small amount – but nearly half the jurors told the judge that they didn’t feel right about sitting in judgment of the guy.As the judge later told the press, it all began when one juror raised her hand: “She said, ‘I’ve got a problem with these marijuana cases.’ And after she got through, a couple more raised their hands.'” Ultimately, five raised objections – hardly surprising, in a way, since Montana is one of the 13 states with established medical weed programs. The judge later remarked, “This was something I’d never encountered before. It does raise a question about the next case.”Which brings us back to Robertson. Why, among all the Christian conservative leaders, is he the one voicing tolerance? The short answer: Robertson, the son of a U.S. senator, is often more politically attuned, and more pragmatically inclined, than his right-wing brethren. He has exhibited this trait before.During the inauguration week in January ’09, when Rush Limbaugh harrumphed that he wanted Obama to fail, Robertson read the prevailing public mood and attacked Limbaugh: “If (Obama) succeeds, the country succeeds. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.” And I can recall an incident during the 2000 presidential campaign, when a federal agency for the first time legalized the marketing of an abortion bill. Most religious-right leaders went ballistic; they insisted that candidate George W. Bush publicly denounce the feds and the pill. But Robertson said nothing at all. I asked him about that, in an interview. Didn’t he hate this pill? Why didn’t he want Bush to attack it? Robertson grinned in response. Yes, on moral grounds, he hated the pill. But then he spoke to me like a shrewd political strategist: “If Bush strongly opposes the pill ruling, the women voters will go against him. (The pill) is something that, frankly, the vast majority of people don’t think is a big deal.”In other words, there are times when Robertson is quite hip to the prevailing zeitgeist. His pragmatic remarks about marijuana criminalization are further proof that the times are changing.

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