Though he has smoked marijuana, Gov. Charlie Crist said he still favors Florida's tough drug laws and doesn't support legislative plans to review whether to lessen the penalties for some crimes such as non-violent drug possession.
The state's prison population is expected to swell at year's end to a record 100,000, about 20 percent of whom are non-violent drug offenders convicted of anything from trafficking to simple possession.
And some legislators have wondered aloud and in private how the state can afford to pay for it all now that Florida's economy is sagging. While no legislator has filed a bill to decriminalize drug laws outright, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed a bill Wednesday setting up a commission to reveiw mandatory-minimum prison sentences -- a legacy of the drug war -- and approved another measure to lessen the penalties for driving with a suspended license.
But Crist said he wants to keep the laws the way they are.
"It's important to make sure that we do what the first order of business is, and that is to ensure domestic tranquility -- make sure that our people are safe -- and that means locking up bad people,'' he said.
What about non-violent drug offenders?
"I feel that our laws are good in Florida. They were throughtfylly put in place. And I know there is a budget crunch. But I don't want to sacrifice public safety,'' Crist said. Asked later if he ever used marijuana, Crist said "yeah.''
So how is supporting drug laws not hypocritical?
"I've said many times, people make mistakes. And what I support about the law is the deterrent effect,'' he said. îîHaving said that, I'm also recommending about $28 million for substance abuse, to help people who might have an addiction or problem with a substance. I think that's important to do as well. I think we have to have balance.''
Crist said he only used marijuana recreationally when he was younger and long before public life and that he never used cocaine.
Did he inhale the marijuana? "I did,'' he said.