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Justice Stevens Supports Federal Marijuana Legalization

John Paul Stevens

By Nicole Flatow

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens proclaimed his wholehearted support for marijuana legalization during an NPR interview Thursday. Referring to “consensus” and evolving norms, he said federal law should allow marijuana when asked by NPR’s Scott Simon:
SIMON: An increasing number of states are legalizing marijuana. Should federal law?


SIMON: You may have just made some news.

STEVENS: Yes. 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.

Sitting justices rarely take positions on political issues. But Stevens has been using his retirement to speak out on a number of controversial issues. He has called for the abolition of the death penalty and a rewrite of the Second Amendment to limit gun rights.

As Stevens alludes to, a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and ballot initiatives have framed reforms to marijuana law as regulating marijuana like alcohol. In fact, some two-thirds of Americans and President Obama now believe that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. But Stevens is far ahead of the curve on federal marijuana politics. While many states are eyeing legalization measures, bills in Congress that propose limited reform have been introduced only in the House, and don’t have any chance of passage this session.