Jimmy Carter: Legalize marijuana

Former president Jimmy Carter is again talking about his support for the legalization of marijuana.

I was still young and hardly paid attention to politics when Jimmy Carter was in office, so I did not know that then-President Carter had called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana all the way back in the 1970s.  Here’s a portion of Carter’s message to Congress of August 2, 1977:

Marijuana continues to be an emotional and controversial issue. After four decades, efforts to discourage its use with stringent laws have still not been successful. More than 45 million Americans have tried marijuana and an estimated 11 million are regular users.

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use. We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of marijuana, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal. States which have already removed criminal penalties for marijuana use, like Oregon and California, have not noted any significant increase in marijuana smoking. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded five years ago that marijuana use should be decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations.

Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. This decriminalization is not legalization. It means only that the Federal penalty for possession would be reduced and a person would received a fine rather than a criminal penalty. Federal penalties for trafficking would remain in force and the states would remain free to adopt whatever laws they wish concerning the marijuana smoker.

He was certainly ahead of his time with this issue, and he makes so many great points in the CNN video below about the clearly racist drug policies that we have in the US.

More from The Hill, on Carter’s discussion last night on drug policies:

“I’m in favor of it. I think it’s OK,” Carter said at the forum, which was taped Friday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in Georgia yet, but I think we can watch and see what happens in the state of Washington, for instance around Seattle, and let the American government and let the American people see does it cause a serious problem or not.”

Carter added that he thought it was appropriate to allow states like Washington and Colorado — which voted last month to legalize recreational marijuana use — to see how marijuana legalization would look.

Indeed. Let’s see how the situation progresses in Washington and Colorado. Once Americans discover the shocking reality that no, the world did not end and that anarchy did not become the status quo in those states after legalization, it will be much easier to promote similar laws in other states. As Carter mentions, Portugal decriminalized drugs years ago and the use of drugs has decreased.

Although the Justice Department is suggesting that they may pursue legal action against Colorado and Washington state, for their recent legalization votes, yet another poll shows that Americans want the federal government to stay out of the decisions made by state voters on marijuana.

Sixty-four percent of Americans are against the federal government’s taking steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal. Americans who personally believe that marijuana should be legal overwhelmingly say the federal government should not get involved at the state level, along with four in 10 of those who are opposed to legalized marijuana.

The US has enough problems – serious problems – to focus on rather than marijuana. Instead of wasting time and money and resources on people who have made choices for themselves that aren’t hurting anyone, why not focus on – oh, I don’t know –  the banking industry that can’t manage to ever keep its noses clean, and who hurt the entire country?

What would be interesting to see is polling data about how impressed Americans are with the Justice Department’s (non)efforts to clamp down on Wall Street.  There’s been far too much decriminalization of their bad habits for far too long.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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