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In the battle between the hippies and squares, the hippies just won: Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports decriminalizing marijuana.

According to a report at the San Antonio Express-News, Perry made the surprising announcement during a panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

His spokesman confirmed that Perry is staunchly opposed to legalization of marijuana because of medical issues, but is committed to policies to lower the punishment for its use in order to keep smokers out of jail.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization" by introducing alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said.

“The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing," the spokesperson told the Express-News. The executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition offered her opinion to the site: "I am shocked."

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union last year made clear the extent of Texas' marijuana arrests. Nearly all of the marijuana-related arrests in the state are for possession — to the tune of more than 74,000 arrests in 2010 alone. The state saw nearly three times as many marijuana-related arrests in 2010 than in 2001. And it's not cheap: The ACLU estimates Texas spent $126 million on police, $85 million in the court system, and $40 million incarcerating people convicted of marijuana crimes in 2010.

Perry has long been an advocate of having states develop their own drug laws. In his 2010 book Fed Up!, he criticized California's embrace of medical marijuana while celebrating its decision to stand up to the federal government. Perry's apparently not yet ready to be quite that bold, but as a possible 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency, he's going further than many might have expected.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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