Terminology Matters

Jun 27, 2008

drug war, law enforcement

Below is a letter I just sent to the producers of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, as well as to NPR's ombudsman. I think we all need to start insisting that news organizations use accurate terminology, rather than the language used by drug warriors to deliberately cloud the picture.


Listening to Morning Edition today, I was surprised to hear a story about violence related to ongoing battles between law enforcement and Mexican drug trafficking organizations refer to this as "drug violence." The reference was clearly inaccurate and misleading.

What is occurring is not "drug violence" -- that is, violence related to the actions or effects of drugs. Rather, it is violence caused by drug prohibition, the criminalization of popular products that relegates their production and distribution to an unregulated underground that exists in a constant state of battle with the police. That some of this violence is connected to the marijuana market is the clearest evidence that it is in fact prohibition violence, not drug violence.

Marijuana, after all, reduces violent or aggressive tendencies in users. Only breathtakingly stupid public policies can take a product that suppresses violence and turn its production and sale into a source of violence. 

Even alcohol -- a drug that irrefutably is a cause of violence and aggression -- is generally produced and sold without significant violence or disorder. The only time that changed was the 1920s, during America's disastrous experiment with Prohibition.

Accurate terminology matters. Please refer to prohibition-related violence by its proper name. Thanks for listening.


Bruce Mirken

Director of Communications

Marijuana Policy Project