Survey: Judges’ views on marijuana legalization similar to public’s views
July 27, 2017
A new survey shows that a majority of judges are not morally opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But the opposition is vocal and includes judges who have the most experience in handling drug cases.
The National Judicial College, the nation's oldest and largest judicial educator, asked its alumni in an online survey if they are morally opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana. The survey was part of the NJC’s newsletter Question of the Month poll. More than 830 judges voted with 62 percent indicating they had no moral objection.
The result closely tracks U.S. public opinion as a whole. A Gallup poll taken last October found that 60 percent of the public favors legalization.
However, the overwhelming majority of the 260 judges who left comments in the NJC poll said they oppose legalization. And many of those — including more than 30 judges who self-identified as drug-court judges — said marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs.
A sample of the comments (all left anonymously):
"I've never sentenced a cocaine or heroin addict that didn't start with marijuana."
"90 percent of felons I ever sentenced started their journey to addiction with marijuana."
"As a drug court judge, almost every one of my participants, when asked, stated marijuana was their gateway drug."
"I have been assigned to drug cases for 11 years and was a police officer for 32 years. Every conversation I had with people on hard drugs, they always started with marijuana. Why do we want to do this with our citizens?"
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Orange County (California) Superior Court Judge David L. Belz wrote that several years ago he presided over domestic violence cases, and he remembers that a history of marijuana use was often reported. Now a family court judge, he cited a warning issued earlier this year by American Academy of Pediatrics amid increasing marijuana legalization. The pediatricians warned that marijuana use interferes with normal brain development, especially in teens. The judge wrote, “Legalization will hurt a lot of people, therefore I oppose it from a moral standpoint.”
Others cited concern for drugged driving and the relative difficulty in testing for marijuana use versus alcohol.
Among judges who were neutral or in favor of legalization, their reasons included: the failed war on drugs; the futility of combating marijuana use with taxpayer money; the double standard in alcohol being legal; and the belief that addiction is a public health issue rather than a criminal matter.
"There is simply no legitimate reason for anybody to be fined or incarcerated for the recreational consumption of this item," wrote one judge anonymously. "It is a waste of taxpayer's money, a bad allocation of law enforcement personnel, and poor use of judicial resources to prosecute these matters."
A few of the judges who opted not to vote in the survey emailed instead to question the validity of the question. Some said the wording could lead to misinterpretation. One judge wrote that although they are not "morally" opposed and voted “no” in the poll, they are still opposed based on other reasons. Another judge pointed out that judges have a moral obligation not to allow their personal beliefs to influence their decisions.
The National Judicial College, housed in the Judicial College Building on the UNR campus, has been the nation's leading provider of judicial education since 1963, drawing participants from every state and from more than 150 countries. The NJC offers more than 100 judicial education programs annually onsite, online, and across the nation in support of its mission: education – innovation – advancing justice. For more information, visit http://www.judges.org.