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Legalize Drugs

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  • Legalizing Drugs Would Create Widespread Social Problems

    Clip: Asa Hutchinson argues that the legalization of drugs such as methamphetamine would dramatically increase problems with child welfare public health and contribute to a lack of productivity.

  • Removing Stigma of Drug Usage Would Reduce Social Harm

    Clip: Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of, says that legalization would remove the stigma of drug usage reducing social harm like violence. Additionally it would pave the way to create proper treatment for substance abusers.

  • The War on Drugs and Race

    Clip: Paul Butler and Theodore Dalrymple debate how drug addiction would be impacted if drugs were legalized in the United States.

  • The Issue of Race and a History of Drug Enforcement

    Clip: Paul Butler, Asa Hutchinson, and Nick Gillespie argue about how race has historically impacted drug law enforcement.

Debate Details

It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs." $2.5 trillion dollars later, drug use is half of what it was 30 years ago, and thousands of offenders are successfully diverted to treatment instead of jail. And yet, 22 million Americans—9% of the population—still uses illegal drugs, and with the highest incarceration rate in the world, we continue to fill our prisons with drug offenders. Decimated families and communities are left in the wake. Is it time to legalize drugs or is this a war that we're winning?

The Debaters

For the motion

Paul Butler

Fmr. Federal Prosecutor & Professor, Georgetown Law

Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown Law, researches and teaches in the areas of criminal law, race relations law, and critical theory. Prior... Read More

Nick Gillespie

Editor at Large, Reason

Nick Gillespie is editor at large of Reason, the libertarian magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets," co-host of the Reason Podcast, and... Read More

Against the motion

Asa Hutchinson

Former Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration

Asa Hutchinson is CEO of Hutchinson Group, a homeland security consulting firm, and practices law in Northwest Arkansas.  Hutchinson was the... Read More

Theodore Dalrymple

Dietrich Weismann Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, who most recently practiced in a British inner city hospital and prison.  He... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The line dividing what's legal and what's not is arbitrary. Alcohol, another mind-altering substance, is found to be a factor in 40% of violent crimes and 40% of traffic fatalities, yet it's still legal. Nicotine kills more people than alcohol and drugs combined, and it's also legal. We associate drugs with crime and violence but this stems from the fact that they are illegal.
  • Legalizing drugs takes away a vital source of funds from organized crime.
  • Drug users themselves are rarely violent and incarceration rates impact minority groups disproportionately.
  • The U.S. spends billions on its war on drugs every year, but cost-benefit analysis has shown that it has not been a success. Prohibition is what gives drugs their value.
  • Instead, government should regulate and tax their sale. We need to move toward a public health model. Portugal, which decriminalized drugs just over ten years ago, has found its drug abuse down by half.
Against The Motion
  • Legalizing drugs would mean decreasing prices and increasing consumption. In the Netherlands where there is non-enforcement for soft drugs, marijuana use doubled among 18-25 year olds.
  • Legalizing drugs won't stop the violence. Criminals won't stop being criminals, drug traffickers and dealers will just turn to other outlets to make money.
  • The war on drugs is working. Drug use has dropped substantially at 1/3 the rate of what it was in the late 1970s. Cocaine use is down by 40% and meth use down by half.
  • Even if we legalize drugs, there would be a black market anyway. Sales to children would obviously remain illegal, and regulated prices would be undercut.
  • Drugs are illegal because they are addictive and harmful. The public health problems impact society on many levels: individual, family and community.

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The Research

The Research

Timeline: America's War on Drugs

National Public Radio
April 2, 2007

Follow the war on drugs from its inception under President Nixon.

Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization

Drug Enforcement Administration
May 1, 2003

A picture of America’s experience with drug use, the current state of the drug problem, and what might happen if America chooses to adopt a more permissive policy on drug abuse.

Drug Legalization and the Right to Control Your Body

David Boaz
October 25, 2007

Federal drug prohibition is not authorized by the Constitution and adult individuals should be free to make their own choices.

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