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What's he smoking?

Gone to pot? Texas Gov. Rick Perry softens stance on marijuana

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Rick Perry at mic 2013
Rick Perry is raising eyebrows after comments on legalizing marijuana. Office of the Governor of Texas/Facebook
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Marijuana is legal in Washington State and Colorado. Possibilities
Rick Perry at mic 2013
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry is well-known as a supporter of guns and low taxes, but he's never made headlines for his stance on legalizing marijuana. Until now. The global media is calling Perry's name for comments the conservative politician made about pot at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Thursday.

Speaking on a panel about drug decriminalization with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Perry said that states have a right to choose whether or not to legalize pot.

And the one-time presidential candidate didn't stop there. According to US News & World Report, Perry went on to say his advocacy for states' rights extends to two of the most contentious social issues in America today — abortion and same-sex marriage.

 "If he gets any pushback at all, he will simply stay he was defending states' rights, which is bedrock conservatism," says SMU political scientist Cal Jillson.

"I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment," Perry said, adding that states get to set their own policies, and Americans decide where they want to live and under what rule of law. 

Although Perry made it clear he wasn't in favor of outright marijuana legalization, the governor also touted his record as moving toward decriminalizing drugs in Texas. His stance isn't exactly the typical Republican party line we've come to expect from the gun-slinging governor, and it's worth noting that Perry is putting his long-held belief in states' rights ahead of any specific political issue. 

Is Perry just shooting from the hip now that he's ending his 14-year run in the governor's mansion, or could he be working on a platform in advance of a 2016 presidential campaign? Cal Jillson, an SMU political science professor, thinks it's a little bit of both. 

"Presumably Rick Perry is at least generally thinking about preparing for another run for president in 2016. What brought him down in 2012 was an inability to speak to controversial national issues," Jillson says. "He is not fleet of verbal foot. He stumbles quite a bit, so he does need to be careful." 

There's an element of risk in every political statement, but Jillson thinks Perry's words are defensible to his conservative base and also reach across the aisle.

"What Perry is really saying is that if the good people of Washington State and Colorado want to legalize marijuana, I disagree but I support their right to decide," Jillson says. "If he gets any pushback at all, he will simply stay he was defending states' rights, which is bedrock conservatism." 

The Marijuana Policy Project has already latched onto Perry's comments, issuing a statement praising the Texas governor just hours after the words left his lips in Switzerland. 

We applaud Gov. Perry for standing up in support of states' rights to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adult use. Our marijuana prohibition policies have failed, and it is time to adopt a more sensible policy. Adults should not be punished for using an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and as Gov. Perry acknowledged, they certainly should not be put in jail or prison.

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