After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation

After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation,” Transform Drug Policy Foundation, November 2009

There is a growing recognition around the world that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been a widespread fear of the unknown – just what could a post-prohibition regime look like?

For the first time, ‘After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’ answers that question by proposing specific models of regulation for each main type and preparation of prohibited drug, coupled with the principles and rationale for doing so.

We demonstrate that moving to the legal regulation of drugs is not an unthinkable, politically impossible step in the dark, but a sensible, pragmatic approach to control drug production, supply and use.


Global drug policy is rooted in a laudable and justifiable urge to address the strong, and very definite, harms that certain non-medical psycho-active drugs can create. This urge has driven a prohibitionist global agenda based on viewing drugs as a ‘threat’, an agenda that gives clear and direct moral authority to those who support it, while casting those who are against it as ethically and politically irresponsible. However, both experience and research suggest that the most effective way of minimising drug harms is through regulation, based upon normative, legal frameworks, rather than prohibition. With this report, we are seeking to engage with such arguments, and to replace moral absolutism with an ethics of effectiveness. In particular, we are looking to show in very practical terms how drug legalisation could be managed, and how a post-legalisation world might look.

We are not suggesting the immediate and unconditional legalisation of all drugs. Legal unregulated markets would be only marginally less harmful than the illegal unregulated drug markets currently in operation. Nor do we feel that, in seeking to bring drug management into line with the most up-to-date research, and with legal and social norms
applied to currently legally managed substances such as medical drugs, nicotine and alcohol, that we are being either disruptively radical, or particularly revolutionary.

In fact, all our proposals are based on current, proven substance licensing and management regimes. We have used these to develop a series of models for drug provision, and looked at the practical details of regulation. We have also mapped out a path to regulation, and tried to define how different kinds of legal markets for different types of currently illicit drugs might work in practice.

We are clear that this report is a starting point, not a conclusion. We hope that it will lead to further discussion, and establish tools to support this dialogue. We are also clear that, although we are as troubled as our prohibitionist colleagues by drug harms, it is not possible to eradicate them completely. Rather, we seek to deploy a combination of research and experience to ensure that such harms are minimised as effectively as possible, at global, national and local levels.

Five models for regulating drug supply

Options for drug regulation sit between two extreme management approaches. At one extreme is the current model—prohibition/criminalisation, which forbids all non-medical supply, production and use of drugs. At the other extreme is free market legalisation, which makes drug sales legal and essentially unrestricted.

Both are absolutist models; neither allow for nuanced, harm minimising management of individual drug supply and usage. Drug regulation,
however, moves away from such one-size-fits-all solutions. It provides a flexible spectrum of drugs management approaches which can be
deployed as appropriate in response to localised needs and priorities. We have identified five key models for such management:

  • Prescription: the most controlling model, this would be an exact equivalent to current prescription models for medical drugs, and so opiate maintenance programmes.
  • Pharmacy sales: drugs would be made available through pharmacies or pharmacy-like outlets, either on prescription or over the counter.
  • Licensed sales: vendors would be granted a licence to sell specific drugs under certain, clearly defined conditions, on off-licence like premises.
  • Licensed premises: vendors would be licensed to manage premises where drugs would be sold and consumed, much like public houses
  • and bars.
  • Unlicensed sales: certain low risk substances could be managed through food and beverage legislation, as—for example—coffee is currently managed.

Read more.