(CNSNews.com) – Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana on Thursday, saying U.S. drug policy has “destroyed the lives of millions of young people.”
While delivering a speech on inter-American relations in Washington, D.C., the 39th president cited high prison populations as a reason to make the laws against marijuana more lenient.
“As president 35 years ago I called for decriminalizing -- but not legalizing -- the possession of marijuana,” Carter said. “Since then, U.S. drug policies have been very horrible to our own country because of an explosion in prison populations.”
“When I left the White House in 1980 there were about 500,000 Americans in prison -- now there are five times as many,” he said. “The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The number of people in prison for nonviolent crimes involving drugs has increased more than twelve-fold, 12 times as many.”
Carter continued, “Not only has this policy destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families, especially the poor and minorities, but it is wreaking havoc with state and local budgets.”
“It’s time to look for an alternative approach, beginning with treatment instead of just imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others,” he said.
When running for president in 1976 Carter campaigned on the issue, advocating for relinquishing federal criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
His remarks Thursday came during a keynote speech at a conference sponsored by the Development Bank of Latin America, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Organization of American States (OAS) at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington.