December 23rd, 2010
04:15 PM ET
By Alan Silverleib, CNN
The Rev. Pat Robertson - a longtime fixture in Christian conservative politics - is drawing attention for questioning an article of faith among many Republicans: mandatory prison sentences for certain marijuana-related crimes.
Some pot legalization advocates noted that Robertson also appeared to question the criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana - a position later denied in a written statement released by his media outlet, the Christian Broadcasting Network.
"It got to be a big deal in campaigns," Robertson said on the December 16 edition of his show "The 700 Club." "Lock 'em up, you know. That's the way these guys ran, and they got elected. But that wasn't the answer."
Robertson said there is "something else we've got to recognize. We're locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing they know they've got 10 years. They've got mandatory sentences and these judges just ... throw up their hands and say there's nothing we can do."
"We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes and that's one of them," Robertson added. "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 and that kind of thing, it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people."
They go into prison "as youths and they come out as hardened criminals, and that's not a good thing."
Chris Roslan, a CBN spokesman, insisted Thursday that Robertson "did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana. He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals."
The famous television pastor "was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. ... Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs."
Roslan noted that Robertson's remarks followed a CBN story about the value of faith-based prisoner rehabilitation programs.
Robertson, who has made a number of controversial statements in the past, used his television presence to become a major power broker in GOP politics for a period of time. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, stunning observers by finishing ahead of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in that year's Iowa caucuses.
Most conservative officeholders continue to back both strong anti-drug laws and mandatory prison sentences for certain crimes. Some, however, have questioned the value of such stances, particularly in the wake of rising prison populations and expenses.
Some conservative libertarians - such as former New Mexico GOP Gov. Gary Johnson - have called for the legalization of marijuana.
A ballot initiative in California this year would have allowed adult possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure was defeated by a 54-to-46 ratio.
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