Skip to main content

The Cause

David Borden discusses decriminalization and legalization on Newsy, November 2017

Why stop the drug war? Why legalize drugs? There are many different parts of our answer to this complex issue. For marijuana, the substance's relative degree of safety make prohibition hard to justify, as most Americans have come to feel. Along with the benefits that go with governmental regulation, research evidence is emerging for a substitution effect of marijuana vs. opioids, leading to fewer overdoses and less addiction to heroin or prescription drugs in states with legal or medically available marijuana.

For more dangerous or addictive drugs, the case is somewhat different. Legalization advocates often believe in the libertarian arguments, but most don't rely on them. We see prohibition as causing damaging street crime that fuels poverty and other problems, most seriously in the inner cities; and as fueling insurgencies and threatening criminal organizations in source or transit countries, especially where states and the rule of law are weak.

David Borden discusses Mexico's drug war and legalization on HuffPost Live, December 2012
We further see the criminalized status of some drugs as intensifying the harms that are associated with their use. The high prices of street drugs, a consequence of the risk involved in selling them and the lack of the efficiencies available to legal businesses drives some addicted persons to take dangerous and degrading measures to obtain the money needed to buy them, such as street crime or prostitution, or drives them into homelessness. The time involved in raising money and finding a safe place to take a drug, drains a person's time away, making it harder to assess one's life or take the time to improve it. Substances that have been illegally produced can be adulterated, leading to poisonings; or can vary in their purity levels, leading to avoidable overdoses; and are usually distributed without the warnings or safety instructions that regulations can provide for. The evidence from the heroin maintenance programs that operate in several European countries and Canada, both academic studies and personal stories, show that for certain drugs at least it is possible for the addicted to live relatively normal or even productive lives, if they are allowed to receive their substances legally and free or affordably.

Sen. Carlos Gaviria Diaz at our 2003 Latin American drug legalization conference, discussing the ruling he authored as Chief Justice of Colombia's Constitutional Court legalizing personal drug possession.
A paper by's executive director David Borden published in the Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal, "If Hard Drugs Were Legalized, Would More People Use Them?," examines these and other issues in the legalization vs. prohibition debate, noting the points on which thoughtful observers of the drug issue agree and disagree. A presentation by Borden at the UN's High Level Meeting on End AIDS in June 2016 discusses the public health damage done by prohibitionist drug policies; another at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs January 2017 intersessional meeting highlights the obstacles prohibition puts in the way of fulfilling the UN Sustainable Development Goals. An open letter by Borden to now former DC Chief Judge Rufus G. King III in 2003, as part of a civil disobedience action by Borden and our former associate director David Guard (covered by the Washington Post), discusses the big picture prohibition and drug war issues prosaically.

In late 2001 launched "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century," a global campaign and conference series. The lead event took place in Mérida, Mexico, drawing 300 attendees including legislators from seven countries. At the time Out from the Shadows Mérida featured the most extensive high level political participation ever seen at a drug policy reform conference.

Stopping the drug war is an issue of justice reform, civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, public health, and freedom. Along with organizations working in all those areas, aligns with groups like the Global Commission on Drug Policy, statements of principle like the Vienna Declaration, the campaigns that have fielded marijuana legalization initiatives in states throughout the US, and many others.