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Scottish Drugs Forum. (2018) The control of drugs. Glasgow: Scottish Drugs Forum.

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This briefing aims to contribute to debate around the legislative approach to drug use, possession and supply. It describes the current system and alternatives that have been suggested and describes practicable and more effective controls in terms of reducing the harms that can occur as a result of drug use. Discussion is sometimes impaired by the misuse and misunderstanding of some terms that are frequently used. In this paper, also in much (but not all) of the literature, the following terms are defined as thus:

Prohibition - Generally this term is used to describe a situation where the importation, manufacture, supply and possession (and often the consumption) of drugs is a criminal act punishable by imprisonment, a fine or other measure by the police or the courts. It should be noted that in practice this does not prevent the supply of drugs. It also means that there is no regulation of supply in terms of quality and that supply is likely to be in the control of organised crime. The analogy of Federal US alcohol prohibition (1920-33) is often used.

Decriminalisation - This is not a clearly defined legal term. It is generally used to describe the removal of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of specified drugs for personal use. To comply with international treaties, under a decriminalisation approach, possession remains an offence that can be subject to a civil or administrative sanction such as a mandatory treatment assessment. Production, importation and supply remain illegal and are punishable as under prohibition.

Legalisation - In its most narrow definition, legalisation would mean that substances were treated like any other product and that people would be free to manufacture, import, supply, possess and consume drugs. However, legalisation almost certainly would involve some form of regulation in practice. 

Regulation - Almost all products e.g. food, consumer goods, etc. are regulated in terms of their manufacture and supply to ensure safety and quality. Some products are also taxed to discourage consumption. So when people talk about legalisation, they are also usually talking about regulation of supply – this would most likely be relatively strict state regulation like that applied to alcohol and tobacco.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Report
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
16 p.
Scottish Drugs Forum
Corporate Creators
Scottish Drugs Forum
Place of Publication

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