Source:  Mainstreet, By Marguerite Arnold May 06

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — In a recent interview on National Public Radio, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke out in favor of cannabis legalization on the federal level.

Appointed by former President Gerald Ford, Stevens has a reputation as one of the Court’s more “liberal” members, even though he considers himself a conservative.

In the interview Justice Stevens said he believed that the American public has drastically shifted its opinion on marijuana and that, like alcohol before it, prohibition was not worth the cost.

 The remark is not the first time Justice Stevens has taken a stance on drugs. In an interview in 2011, Stevens slammed harsh and mandatory drug sentencing laws. “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.

What makes his stance so interesting however, is Steven’s historical judicial record on drugs in general and marijuana in particular.

Also See: Marijuana Prohibition Mimics Alcohol Prohibition from a Centruy Earlier

In 1990, Steven sided with the majority in Employment Division V. Smith, which said that a state could deny unemployment benefits to a person who violated a state law regulating peyote, which Native Americans use in religious rituals. The decision went further than this, however, and also held that while states have the power to accommodate “illegal acts” under state law (in this case in the pursuit of religious beliefs) they are not required to do so.

In 2001, he also agreed with the majority in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, which allowed the denial of medical marijuana under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act – the same law that defines cannabis as a Schedule I drug. The Court held that common-law medical necessity did not give federal immunity to anyone in violation of same. While the case did not overturn state laws which allow medical marijuana use, it opened the door to federal prosecution of patients and caregivers on a state-wide level, most notably California.

In 2005, Stevens shared a majority ruling opinion in Gonzales v. Raich, which held that the Commerce Clause enables federal prosecution of the production and use of even home-grown cannabis, even in states where the same is legal if not approved for medical use.

His newest statements on the issue appear to suggest that Stevens might have changed his stance on at least medical marijuana as he said that he now finds it “most unwise” to prohibit the same.

Stevens is currently on tour, promoting his newest book that suggests six needed changes to the U.S. Constitution. He also does not believe that the issue of cannabis legalization should be raised to a Constitutional amendment. Despite current statements, he also has expressed his support for federal legalization of cannabis without proposing any avenues to do so.

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