Collection Description & Arrangement

The Bonnie Papers, given to the law library in 1981, 1986, and 1987, comprise 42 boxes (18 shelf feet). The collection includes Bonnie's professional, legal, and research papers, covering the years from approximately 1969 through 1987. An extensive general correspondence file contains materials related to his work in the Law School and other activities; correspondence touching on most of his professional and consulting activities typically may be found with related papers in the appropriate folders. There are very few personal papers.

The collection should be useful to anyone researching drug law, particularly the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana and the rise in drug usage in the 1970s -- an era of great ferment for the drug issue in the United States. Clippings, correspondence, legislative testimony, the materials of special interest groups like NORML, and the notes for Bonnie's books convey the thoughts and attitudes that shaped the drug issue during these years. There is a similar, if not as extensive, collection of materials on the insanity defense from the early 1980s. 

The Bonnie papers remain grouped as they were received. Mss 81-9 contains clippings on the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, or Shafer Commission. Mss 81-9a is by far the largest of the series, taking up 37 of the collection's 42 boxes. This group is broken down in the following order:

Public service (almost exclusively relating to drug issues) professional activities (relating mainly to drugs and the insanity defense) University of Virginia, primarily the Law School general correspondence and related files. 

The public service papers relate to Bonnie's work with the federal government, including the Shafer Commission and his mission to Western Europe. The professional activities group includes a great deal of material on marijuana decriminalization. In addition there is information on other medical and legal experts in the drug field, organizations, and journals and publications containing Bonnie's own work on the drug issue (including his two books on marijuana). Bonnie's general correspondence (10 folders, 1968-1984) and related papers conclude Mss 81-9a. Here are found speeches and testimony on the drug issue, files of cases handled by Bonnie on appeal, and records of private consultations. 

Mss 81-9b contains miscellaneous papers relating to Bonnie's work with a task force organized to study alcohol and drug abuse at the University of Virginia, 1986-1987. Mss 81-9c includes assorted papers on alcohol and drug law, psychiatry, the Graduate Program for Judges, and the University of Virginia, as well as general correspondence for 1985-1986.

Biographical & Historical Information

Richard Jeffrey Bonnie, John S. Battle Professor of Law and director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, is a recognized authority in the fields of mental health, drug law and criminal law. In addition to his roles at the Law School, where he began teaching in 1969, Bonnie has worked for the federal government in various capacities, and as a private consultant.

Born in 1945 at Richmond, Va., Bonnie received his bachelor of arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and his law degree from Virginia three years later. He ranked first in his law school class, served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review, and belonged to the Order of the Coif and the Raven Society. Following graduation, Bonnie taught at the Law School for a year before becoming associate director of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, serving from 1971 to 1973. In March 1972, the commission, under the direction of former Pennsylvania governor Raymond P. Shafer, unanimously recommended the decriminalization of consumption-related marijuana offenses. Although the report was endorsed by organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the National Education Association, it was quickly rejected by President Nixon and drew only a mixed response from state legislatures. An amendment to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, drafted partially by Bonnie and incorporating the commission's findings, was approved by the National Conference of commissioners on Uniform
State Laws in 1973.

"From 1972 through 1977," Bonnie writes in the preface to his 1980 book, Marijuana Use and Criminal Sanctions, "I was actively involved in the effort to win legislative support for reforming the marijuana laws (p. iii)." During most of these years he was also teaching at the Law School (having returned in the fall of 1973), but he found time to participate in the marijuana reform movement in several ways. Bonnie was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (1975-1980), served as a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, and helped write President Ford's White Paper on Drug Abuse in 1975. He testified on marijuana policy before two U.S. Senate subcommittees and 15 state legislative committees, and in 1976-1977 helped the National Governors' Conference develop its study on state marijuana penalties and policies. In 1977 he visited several European countries for the federal government, in part to explain the Carter administration's endorsement of marijuana decriminalization.

Besides Marijuana Use, Bonnie also co-authored The Marihuana Conviction (1974) with Virginia colleague Charles H. Whitebread II, as well as numerous articles on marijuana and drug law for scholarly journals and for periodicals ranging from the Washington Post to the National Enquirer. In the 1980s, Bonnie began to move away from drug law and turn his attention more to the fields of psychiatry, mental health and criminal law. He was chairman of the State Human Rights Committee (1979-1985), which was responsible for protecting the rights of the mentally ill and retarded in Virginia's public institutions, and co-authored a casebook on criminal law (1982) with Virginia professors Peter W. Low and John C. Jeffries, Jr. Bonnie became a noted expert on the insanity defense, a heated issue following the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr. in 1982 for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

Acquisition Information

Date Received 1981
Donor Information The Bonnie Papers were given to the law library in 1981, 1986 and 1987 by Richard J. Bonnie.

Content List

Box 1

  • 1972-1973, Clippings on the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (5 folders)


Associated People

Use Policy

Access Open
Use Restrictions No restrictions
Preferred Citation

The Papers of Richard J. Bonnie, MSS 81-9, Box Number, Special Collections, University of Virginia Law School Library

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