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The authors analyzed two convenience samples of opinion essays from U.S. newspapers to examine differences in the content and complexity of argumentation in the drug legalization debate. The first sample was of fifty-one New York Times essays from the 1970s and 1980s. The second sample was of 133 essays from twenty-seven newspapers across the country in 1989 and 1990. Content analyses suggest that the debate has shifted over time from decriminalization of marijuana, based on the civil rights of users, to legalization of cocaine and heroin, based on the perceived need to disrupt the connection between drugs and crime. Proponents of legalization provided significantly more complex arguments than proponents of continued prohibition.

Originally published in: Journal of Drug Issues, v. 23, no. 4, Fall 1993, pp. 615-629.

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