Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox of Rancho Santa Fe is taking issue with an April 23 San Diego Union-Tribune story that reported that Cox said marijuana users should be hospitalized, not incarcerated.

Cox told KPBS on Thursday that he was talking about heroin and opioid addicts, not cannabis users.

The Union-Tribune story was based on comments made by Cox at a March candidates forum hosted by 10News and the Union-Tribune. Video of the forum was posted with the story.

At the forum, Cox said, “I’d like to go to the Portugal system where they actually put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse. I’m not interested in jailing recreational marijuana users, and I’m certainly for medical marijuana.”

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Reporter Joshua Stewart followed up with a series of questions for Cox, at an editorial board meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters.

The meeting was recorded; here is a transcription of the questions and answers, from the audio:

Q: “You mentioned at the debate, I listened to the tape this morning that — this is regarding cannabis in California — ‘I’d like to go to the Portugal system where they actually put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse.’”

A: “Yeah.”

Q: “Why do you think that institutionalizing marijuana users would be in the state’s best interest?”

A: “I’m not suggesting that’s institutionalization. But I’m suggesting that people who are addicted to substances, substance abuse, should get treated. They shouldn’t be incarcerated. That was the point.”

Q: “In Portugal you know, the system that you mentioned, they legalized all recreational drugs. But if you are found with heroin you have mandatory treatment. I mean wouldn’t that, is that something you’re suggesting? Why?”

A: “Yeah. I think that’s a reasonable thing to look at.”

Q: “Why expand it to cannabis where you know it’s largely been shown to be non-addictive and the people that are using cannabis aren’t a threat?”

A: “If that’s shown to be the case I’m not necessarily demanding that it be done with regard to cannabis. But I think there are some statistics that show that people who are heavy users of cannabis can also then transition into other drugs as well. But…I’m not an expert. I’ll get experts involved to determine what the best policies are for that. I’m looking for, the point of my making reference to Portugal is I’m always looking for best practices. That’s what a business guy does. You look for best practices. I like to look at what works. And that’s not ideological that’s just practical. I want to see what works. And frankly I don’t care if it comes to me from a Democrat. I don’t care if it comes to me from Portugal. I’m going to look at what works to solve problems. And that’s what I’m going to be interested in doing.”

Q: “In Portugal they legalized all drugs. You know from cannabis to heroin. Do you think that would be appropriate or…”

A: “I wouldn’t favor that.”

In the KPBS report about Cox that aired on Thursday, he was asked about the Union-Tribune story. Here’s the exchange:

Q: “You were interviewed by the Union Tribune here in San Diego recently and you said that marijuana users should be put in mandatory treatment facilities.”

A: “That is absolutely not true.”

Q: “You did not say this?”

A: “No, and I have it on tape. I have it on tape and we played the tape for the Union-Tribune and they still held to their position. I clearly did not say that recreational pot users should go to hospitals. I talked about heroin. I talked about abuse of drugs that are addicting like heroin and opioids. We should do what Portugal does — not put those people in jail but put them in the hospitals and get them well. That’s the right solution. Marijuana, no.”

Q: “Marijuana users, you said nothing about putting them in hospitals?”

A: “Absolutely not, and I will be happy to play the tape for you. And this is one of the issues with the media these days. We purposely taped that meeting and we played it. And this got a lot of coverage on radio. Carl DeMaio here in San Diego covered this extensively, so did Mark Larson. They played the tape on the radio and it clearly said that I was talking about heroin and opioids and addictive drugs. Marijuana to my knowledge is not an addictive drug.”

The radio station concluded its report by playing audio from the March candidates forum where Cox said: “I’d like to go to the Portugal system where they actually put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse.”

The Union-Tribune asked the campaign for an explanation of the differing statements and received no immediate response.

© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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