Former Supreme Court Justice: Legalize Pot

Marijuana Plant

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has endorsed legalization of marijuana:

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens made some news in an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon on Thursday.

Scott asked him if the federal government should legalize marijuana.

“Yes,” Stevens replied. “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.”


Just think back to 1987, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg to the high court.

Nine days later, after Ginsburg admitted that he had smoked marijuana, he asked Reagan to withdraw his nomination.

Times have indeed changed.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    He also, as of late, ridiculed Citizens United on which he dissented, and McCutcheon, and the ridiculous idea that money = speech.

    “…The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate, It’s really wrong…”
    The times have indeed changed…but certainly not all for the better.

  2. James Pearce says:


  3. Stevens had his chance to do something about this issue during Gonzales v. Raich and chose to maintain the status quo. Who cares what he thinks about it now that he’s retired?

  4. Sejanus says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Gonzales v. Raich was about whether or not the constitution allows the federal government to outlaw marijuana, not about whether or not outlawing marijuana is a good idea. Judges can’t just strike down laws because they oppose them on policy grounds, rather they need to examine whether or not the legislative body which has enacted the law in question has done so in accordance with powers granted to it by the constitution. I say props to Stevens for upholding what he sees as a correct interpretation of the constitution even when he finds it politically undesirable.

  5. @Sejanus:

    I say props to Stevens for upholding what he sees as a correct interpretation of the constitution even when he finds it politically undesirable.

    Except I don’t see how his opinion in Raich was consistent with precedents of the court as whole. It was purely a “drugs are bad m’kay” reaction with a lot of BS to rationalize. Now that history has turned, he’s trying to jump in front of the parade and pretend he’s the drum major.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    So where does the Constitution say that money=speech?

  7. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin:

    So where does the Constitution say that money=speech?

    I don’t know what S has in mind but I think it’s in the aisle with the corporations=people sutff, next to the fruit and nut displays.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    I say props to Stevens for upholding what he sees as a correct interpretation of the constitution even when he finds it politically undesirable.

    Stevens’ Raich decision was one of the worst decisions in my lifetime. He claimed that someone growing marijuana in their house for their own use was “inextricably linked” with interstate commerce, an absolutely absurd assertion. Thanks to his decision, legal marijuana clinics are still being raided, banks can’t do business with them and when the owners are brought up on federal charges, juries are not told they were dealing it under state license. Obama has said he’ll lay off, which is nice but not legally binding.

    If someone growing pot in their own basement for their own use is interstate commerce, there is literally no limit on the interstate commerce clause. THAT’s the legal legacy of Raich.

  9. Paul Hooson says:

    I’m not a fan of drugs myself, but I admire how a conservative Republican like John Paul Stevens is such a reasonable voice for civil liberties and was an excellent replacement for William O. Douglas, who was also a strong advocate for civil liberties. I most admired his strong defense of 1st Amendment liberties and his opposition to unconstitutional curbs on 1st Amendment freedoms such as obscenity laws, which have their roots in religious laws meant to curb free expression and questioning of religion.

  10. Sejanus says:

    @Stormy Dragon: It might have been a “drugs are bad m’kay” thing, but it easier to me to explain it as part of the tendency among Justices deemed liberal to advocate an expansive interpertation of the commerce clause. Notice that most of the Justices who joined Stevens opinion in Gonzales v. Raich were the Justices generally seen as liberal (Scalia is an exception, Kennedy is a debatable case) while the conservative wing of the court dissented. But maybe there’s something I’m missing here, I’m glad if you’ll enlighten me.

    @C. Clavin: No clue why do you think I advocate such a thing.

    @Hal_10000: I agree that the consequences of the decision are note desirable, but it seems to me mostly consistent with expansive interpretation of the commerce clause that has been established in several different precedents. If a law prohibiting a farmer from growing a certain amount of wheat for personal use was found constitutional under the commerce clause, than it isn’t such a long walk to reach the verdict Stevens reached in Gonzales v. Raich.