Rufus King Sr., 82, a lawyer who was a national leader of the movement to decriminalize narcotics, died of cancer Dec. 28 at his Washington home.

In practice here since the 1950s, Mr. King wrote extensively about organized crime, drug laws and gambling. His books included "The Drug Hangup," which made the case in 1973 for treatment rather than punishment of illegal drug users.

Mr. King was also a founding member of the American Bar Association's section on individual rights and responsibilities. Reform of the drug laws was a commitment for much of his career.

It was an early and sometimes lonely stand to take, his son, D.C. Superior Court Judge Rufus King Jr., recalled. But Mr. King was often asked to lecture and to speak on radio and television about the futility of America's costly drug wars.

Dating from his stint as a counsel to the Senate committee investigating organized crime in the early 1950s, Mr. King was convinced that trying to control drugs, "like Prohibition, cost more in corrupt law enforcement and irrational criminal penalties than it helped," Judge King said.

In a "My Turn" column published in Newsweek in April, Mr. King criticized the growth of a "powerful 'prison-industrial complex' " that was "exploiting today's hostility against wrongdoers."

He called for the immediate review of all sentences being served by nonviolent, first-time offenders, many of whom were convicted of drug charges. He said that America's "hysteria over drugs" was helping pack the country's prisons and pointed out that many states were spending more on corrections than schools.

Mr. King, who was of counsel to the firm of Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, helped establish a joint committee on narcotics of the American Bar and American Medical associations in the mid-1950s. In his law practice, his clients included a number of pinball manufacturers.

Mr. King was a native of Seattle and a graduate of Princeton University and Yale University law school. He also studied law at Stanford University. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II.

After the war, he was a lawyer with the Air Transport Association in Washington and editor of World Guide, a trade magazine for air shippers.

After serving on the Hill in the early 1950s, he was chairman of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association, and he practiced law with Downey Rice.

Mr. King served on a presidential commission on law enforcement and was a consultant to the Hudson Institute. He was a member of the advisory board of the Drug Policy Foundation, which gave him its highest award. His honors also included the top award of the National Conference on Crime and Delinquency.

His marriage to Janice Chase ended in divorce.

In addition to his son from his first marriage, of Washington, survivors include his wife, Elvine R. King, an artist known professionally as V.V. Rankine, of Washington; a daughter from his first marriage, Sheridan King Peyton of Three Rivers, Calif.; two stepsons, John H. Magruder of Dover, Mass., and David S. Rankin of Reno, Nev.; and four grandchildren.