Retired Supreme Court Justice Says Legalize It

By Shawn Dwyer 04/25/14

John Paul Stevens, a conservative justice appointed by Gerald Ford, has come out in favor of the federal government legalizing weed.

Stevens receives the Medal of
Freedom in 2012.

In an interview with Scott Simon on NPR, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens declared that marijuana should be federally legalized.

"I really think that that's another instance of public opinion [that's] changed,” Stevens said. “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."

Stevens, who was appointed to the bench by Republican president Gerald Ford and has been retired since 2010, was on the radio station to promote his new book, Six Amendments. The book discusses the changes he would make to the U.S. constitution, including abolishing capital punishment, altering the second amendment to allow for greater regulation of firearms, and tightening campaign finance laws.

Unsurprisingly, pot advocates such as Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, jumped on Stevens’ comments. "Justice Stevens is right. Public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of marijuana legalization," Angell said in a statement. "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’ attitude toward marijuana is a mere reflection of the overall sea change in public opinion since his time on the bench. Back in 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Douglas H. Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, but was forced to withdraw the nomination nine days later when it was revealed that Ginsburg had smoked pot.

''I was looking forward to sharing with the American people my views about justice and about the role of the courts in our society,” Ginsburg said at the time. “Unfortunately, all of the attention has been focused on our personal lives, and much of that on events of many years ago.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.