Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter expressed his support for marijuana legalization during a CNN forum
on Tuesday. “I’m in favor of it. I think it’s OK,” Carter told CNN reporter Suzanne Malveaux. The former President advocated for marijuana decriminalization during his time in office, and addressed Congress on the issue 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.”
Carter suggests the harsh penalties
in some states for marijuana-related offenses lead to high incarceration rates, especially for minorities and those with mental illness. The former President noted that countries with liberal decriminalization policies, such as Portugal, could serve as a good example for the United States. "It's a major step backward, and it ought to be reversed, not only in America, but around the world," says Carter.
Although Carter doesn’t believe legalization will happen in his native Georgia anytime soon, he praised states like Washington and Colorado
, where cannabis was legalized on Election Day. “A few states in America are good to take the initiative and try something out,” he says. Carter suggests these states can show the United States government and its citizens any positive and negative effects of legalization that may arise.
It appears many Americans agree with Carter’s view on cannabis legalization. In a recent Gallup poll reported on the Last Word by Lawrence O’Donnell in November, 50 percent of Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization while 46 percent are opposed.
Despite the opinions of politicians like Carter and the number of citizens in favor of legalization, marijuana remains criminalized under the federal Interstate Commerce Clause. Classified as a Schedule I drug, cannabis falls into the same category as drugs including Ecstacy and heroin.