John Paul Stevens: Marijuana should be legal

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, pictured on May 30, 2012.

AP/Danny Johnston

Like a majority of the nation, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens thinks the federal government should legalize marijuana.

"I really think that that's another instance of public opinion [that's] changed," Stevens told NPR. "And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction. Alcohol, the prohibition against selling and dispensing alcoholic beverages has I think been generally, there's a general consensus that it was not worth the cost. And I think really in time that will be the general consensus with respect to this particular drug."

Stevens was appointed to the court in the 1970s by President Gerald Ford and considers himself a conservative, though he was considered as part of the court's liberal wing.

A Pew research poll released earlier this month showed that 54 percent of Americans think the drug should be legal. In 2010, when Stevens left the court, just 41 percent thought marijuana should be legal, according to Pew. While a majority agrees with Stevens, most older Americans disagree with the 94-year-old former justice -- just 32 percent of people 65 and older said in this month's Pew survey that the drug should be legal.

While it's still illegal under federal law, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed ballot initiatives in 2012 to legalize its use under their respective state laws. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot this November in Alaska, while activists are trying to get it on the ballot in Oregon and Washington, D.C.