Part of the Berman Institute of Bioethics Seminar Series
Open to All - Lunch is Included
Held in the SPH Feinstone Hall
Marijuana has had a rocky and peculiar history in the United States. The early history of marijuana prohibition is fairly well known, thanks in part to a classic work on the subject, The Marijuana Conviction, co-authored by Richard J. Bonnie while he was associate director of a commission appointed by Richard Nixon. In 1972, to the surprise of many, the commission recommended decriminalizing marijuana use, but it also rejected the idea of legalization, expressing major concerns about the public health consequences of doing so. While loosening marijuana laws became a mainstream policy idea through the Ford and Carter administrations, in the Reagan White House, a policy of “zero tolerance” took hold and evolved into a new and costly war on all illegal drugs. Millions of marijuana arrests ensued. As the drug war’s costs accumulated in the early 21st century, support for decriminalizing marijuana returned. Some states defied the federal government by legalizing medical use. Then, suddenly, in 2012, voter initiatives in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use and, in 2014, voters in Washington DC did the same, with legalization in the District due to take effect 26 February 2015. The worries raised by the commission in 1972 are back, complicated by the challenges of implementing the law. The speaker, who has both chronicled this story and been a player in it for more than four decades, will reflect on why marijuana prohibition suddenly collapsed and on what should happen next.
Speaker: Richard J. Bonnie
Mr. Bonnie is Harrison Foundation Professor of Law and Medicine, Professor of Public Policy, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science, and Director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He teaches and writes about health law and policy, bioethics, criminal law, and public policies relating to mental health, substance abuse, and public health.