Legalise drugs, don't decriminalise them

Last week, I wrote for The Guardian on why advocates of drug law reform should opt for legalisation over decriminalisation. The article generated a great deal of debate and made a big splash on social media. You can read the full piece here. Here’s an extract:

Unlike decriminalisation, a legalised, regulated market would drive many street dealers out of existence. This is especially important for underage drug users because, unlike regulated shops and pharmacies, street dealers don’t ask for ID. They also tend to be unreliable sources of information on recommended dosage, and black market drugs are rarely pure. When I go to the pub, I know whether I’m getting beer or vodka; drug buyers on the street can only hope they’re getting what they’re paying for. The UK-based drug testing organisation The Loop has reported finding drugs laced with everything from concrete to crushed-up malaria tablets at music festivals.

The Adam Smith Institute has been advocating drug legalisation for years. Our most recent research paper on the subject, The Tide Effect, explores the case for cannabis legalisation. If you’re interested in learning more about debate between decriminalisation and legalisation, our former Executive Director Sam Bowman wrote this interesting piece evaluating these two approaches.

It’s also worth noting that there’s more to the drug policy debate than the question of prohibition, decriminalisation, or legalisation. On a local level, festival drug testing services like The Loop should be supported as part of an immediate harm reduction strategy. Our approach to regulating so-called ‘legal highs’ (or New Psychoactive Substances) is a failure. And it’s important to focus on the specifics of any legalisation proposal, right down to the optimal system of taxation and regulation for legal cannabis. In every area of the drug policy debate, we’ll continue to make the case for harm reduction and liberalism.