Sunday, February 19, 2023

President Jimmy Carter, Marijuana Decriminalization Advocate

The first president I got to vote for, after campaigning against Richard Nixon four years earlier at the age of 14, was Jimmy Carter. It's been announced that the 98-year-old Carter is in hospice, to spend his final days at home. 

On his second day in office in 1977, Carter pardoned all Vietnam War draft evaders. During his term, two new cabinet-level departments—the Department of Energy and the Department of Education—were established. 

During his presidential campaign, Carter responded to a candidate survey from NORML stating that he was in favor of decriminalization of cannabis. Six months into his administration, on August 2, 1977, he issued a Drug Abuse Message to Congress stating: 

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.

“He was way ahead of his time when he called on Congress to decriminalize marijuana in the mid-70s,” NORML founder and legal director Keith Stroup said. “Both of his sons were smokers so he obviously felt the issue was somewhat personal.” 

Carter's oldest son Jack was dismissed from the Navy in 1976 for smoking pot. In the documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, the former president says, "When Willie Nelson wrote his autobiography, he confessed that he smoked pot in the White House one night when he was spending the night with me. And he says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants in the White House. That is not exactly true — it actually was one of my sons [Chip]."

Carter retained Nixon-era (yet pro-decriminalization) advisor Robert DuPont, and appointed pro-decriminalization British physician Peter Bourne as his drug advisor (or "drug czar") to head up his newly-formed Office of Drug Abuse Policy. In 1978, The Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program was founded, providing federally-grown marijuana joints to patients in need after glaucoma sufferer Robert Randall sued for his right to the medicine that saved his eyesight. 

As detailed in Emily Dufton's book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall of Marijuana in America, grassroots parents' organizations played a large role in building popular opinion against cannabis decriminalization. The group Nosy Parents Association met with DuPont in 1977 and impressed upon him that youth cannabis usage was hurting students and families. Following this meeting, DuPont scaled back his support for decriminalization. Bourne resigned over a Quaalude-prescribing scandal; afterwards it was leaked that he used cocaine at a NORML party. Carter's record wasn't perfect: his administration continue to spray paraquat onto marijuana crops in Mexico, poisoning American marijuana smokers. 

Ronald Reagan, who as California's governor brought in the National Guard against student protesters at UC Berkeley, used his syndicated weekly radio show to attack Carter for being soft on cannabis, and support stricter anti-cannabis policies. Reagan ousted Carter by arranging an illegal pre-election arms-for-hostages trade with Iran. The US citizens taken hostage in Iran were released the day Reagan was inaugurated. The "Just Say No" campaign lead by First Lady Nancy Reagan ensued.

With former DEA chief Peter Bensinger, DuPont went on to found Bensinger Dupont, a urine testing company that capitalized on the piss-testing mandates for workers brought in by the Reagan administration. In 1981 DuPont served as a paid consultant for Straight, Incorporated, a controversial drug rehabilitation program that treated adolescents and was the subject of numerous allegations of abuse and which was successfully sued for false imprisonment and maltreatment. The IND program was closed to new applicants in 1992 under the George H. W. Bush administration, after scores of AIDS patients applied to the program. 

Greedy gas-guzzling Americans mocked Carter for a 1977 speech he made wearing a sweater and recommending turning our thermostats down. The solar panels he put on the roof of the White House were removed by Reagan, who gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy, and snickers here when Carter brought up national health insurance (instead allowing his friend Henry Kaiser to build a private healthcare empire). 

In 1982, Carter established the Carter Center to promote and expand human rights; he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He spent his retirement building houses for the poor with Habitat for Humanity, continuing to do so even after he'd injured himself at the age of 95. He told an interviewer that he was still learning about his wife Rosalynn after decades of marriage. 

In 2011 Carter penned an oped for the New York Times calling for an end for the drug war in which he wrote:

Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. 

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state's budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education. 

Carter wrote 30 books, including A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power (2014) in which he wrote thoughts he also expressed in a TedTalk (above): 

In October 2013 the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, reported a substantial increase in the proportion of women being incarcerated globally compared to men and stated that the conditions of their imprisonment are more severe than those faced by men. She explained that women often are subjected to incarceration for crimes committed under coercion from men who exercise abusive authority over them, especially in the pursuit of illegal drug trafficking or other criminal enterprises....The special rapporteur states, 'Current domestic and international anti-drug policies are one of the leading causes of rising rates of incarceration of women around the world.'

Some have misinterpreted Holy Scripture and believe God has ordained a lower status for women. Some men are afraid of losing their advantages in a paternalistic society...My hope is that this book and the publicity that will result from its promotion will be of help. 

He encouraged readers to contact The Carter Center and its initiative Mobilizing Faith for Women; another program is Women and the Right of Access to Information. Read more

"Jimmy Carter is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I've ever had the honor of meeting," tweeted Jon Stewart. "He's the best of us." Steve Martin wrote: 

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