Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said on Thursday that the federal government should follow the lead of states that have legalized marijuana. That makes him the first Supreme Court justice — retired or otherwise — to endorse legalization.
“Yes,” Stevens replied when asked by NPR’s Scott Simon as to whether marijuana should be legalized under federal law. “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction. Alcohol, the prohibition against selling and dispensing alcoholic beverages has I think been generally, there’s a general consensus that it was not worth the cost. And I think really in time that will be the general consensus with respect to this particular drug.”
This isn’t the first time Justice Stevens has taken a progressive stand on drug policy. In a 2011 interview in Time magazine, the bow-tied jurist slammed harsh drug sentencing. “The use of mandatory minimum statutes has had a very adverse effect on the overall system, and I think generally, the so-called war on drugs has emphasized more-severe punishment than is appropriate throughout the country,” Stevens said then. “There are some instances where penalties are so disproportionate that they could well violate the Eighth Amendment.”
And although Stevens authored the Supreme Court opinion in Gonzales v. Raich upholding federal preeminence over state medical marijuana laws, he has also called it “most unwise” to prohibit the medical use of the drug.
Stevens’ latest remarks were cheered by Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“Justice Stevens is right. Public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of marijuana legalization,” said Angell. “Polls now consistently show that a clear majority of the public supports ending prohibition and, as this trend continues, we’ll start to see more prominent people and politicians saying it’s time to change the laws.”
Stevens served as Supreme Court justice from 1975 to 2010.
By Phillip Smith