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Pat Robertson and stoners? Praise be to strange bedfellows

I'm trying to picture Pat Robertson sitting on the sofa watching a Simpsons rerun, an empty Doritos bag by his side, wondering if he left something burning in the toaster oven and hoping somebody else will get up to check. That's a pretty typical stoner afternoon. (Or so I've been told.)

I'm having trouble imagining it, too. But while the 81-year-old televangelist and author of Miracles Can Be Yours Today has never personally held a bong to his lips, he's the latest in an unlikely line of advocates for the legalization of marijuana.

"I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," Mr. Robertson told The New York Times this week. "… This war on drugs just hasn't succeeded."

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He has made similar remarks before on his show The 700 Club, but he went even further in this interview: "Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs … Some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all."

We're talking about someone who's about as conservative as they come: This is not a man you're going to find passed out under Keith Richards's dining room table wearing Courtney Love's bra. The website of his Christian Broadcasting Network currently has a feature called, "Cambodian Children Learn About Jesus."

Mr. Robertson is no friend to gays or feminists, and he believes that you can change the course of tornadoes if you pray hard enough. And yet even he is more enlightened about drug laws than our leaders in Ottawa. To quote Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's spokeswoman, responding to criticism of C-10, the government's omnibus crime legislation, the government has "no intention to decriminalize or legalize marijuana."

Pat Robertson is now more progressive than the people currently running the federal government. That's quite a feat. When Bill C-10 passes this coming week, over an outcry from lawyers and academics, it will impose mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences: Growing six pot plants or more, for example. This comes at a time when other jurisdictions are rethinking decriminalization, in recognition of the fact that the war on drugs has turned into a Vietnam of wasted money and effort. Colorado and Washington state, for example, will both hold votes in November on legalizing pot.

In advocating legalization, Mr. Robertson joins a host of other degenerate beatniks that includes American police officers, four former attorneys-general of British Columbia and Tony Bennett. Let's not forget Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker, George Shultz and Canada's own Louise Arbour, all advisers to the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Last summer, the commission released a report detailing how governments need to develop new policies that sidestep the politically expedient route of tossing people in jail for drug possession. Last week, it sent a letter to Canadian senators examining the bill, hoping "that Canada will elect to adopt an evidence-based approach to controlling cannabis, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the proposed path through Bill C-10 is destructive, expensive and ineffective."

Hmm, what's a polite way to say "fat chance?" Although why be polite? Here are more of those pernicious foreigners that the government sees hiding behind every potted plant, the ones who are trying to shape our sovereign destiny. Look, even Richard Branson is criticizing Canada's new drug laws, and what is he? That's right: a long-haired Limey who wants to take people to the moon.

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But Mr. Branson isn't just a space cadet with delusions of grandeur and General Custer's hairdo; he's a rather brilliant billionaire businessman with a flair for innovative thought. Why not listen to him when he says we're about to waste a lot of money and young lives? Or how about a similar plea issued by LEAP, a group of former and current U.S. law-enforcement officials who also consider C-10 misguided. They wrote a letter to the government arguing that "the taxation and regulation of marijuana is a more effective policy approach to reducing crime." To quote Lewis Carroll, which seems fitting in this topsy-turvy world, "answer came there none."

So, let's see: We have a bunch of sheriffs, a televangelist, a business tycoon, former heads of state, conservative politicians who helped formulate anti-drugs policy in the first place, and the 66 per cent of Canadians who, according to a recent poll, favour the legalization or decriminalization of pot. It's the weirdest group of people gathered for a common purpose since Liza Minnelli and David Gest's wedding photo. And for the moment, it seems, they're as likely to be unfulfilled.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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