Jimmy Carter says marijuana legalization is A-OK

Former President Jimmy Carter is in favor of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State.
Former President Jimmy Carter is in favor of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State.
Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Former President Jimmy Carter expressed his approval of marijuana legalization at a forum on Tuesday.

“I’m in favor of it. I think it’s OK,” Carter said. He praised states where the drug has already been legalized–Colorado and Washington State–adding, “I don’t think it’s going to happen in Georgia yet.”

Carter’s position on marijuana should not come as a great surprise. On this issue, the former president has been relatively liberal from the start; he advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana during his tenure as president, and addressed the matter in a message to Congress in 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.”

At the time Carter did not support legalization, and even went on in the same speech to discourage Americans from smoking marijuana. But he supported “legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.”

Thirty-five years later, marijuana is still federally criminalized under the Interstate Commerce Clause, and is classified as a Schedule I drug–alongside heroin and MDMA–meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use.

Yet it’s Carter’s views, not those of the federal government, which are more in line with a majority of Americans today. As Lawrence O’Donnell reported on The Last Word in November, a recent Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans supported pot legalization, to 46% opposed. This is a major shift in public opinion from the 84% who opposed legalization in 1969.

“A few states in America are good to take the initiative and try something out,” Carter said Tuesday. “That’s the way our country has developed over the last two hundred years, is by a few states being kind of experiment stations.”