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Drug Policy: Prohibition, Decriminalization, Legalization. Lecture 10. What to Expect in This Lecture. Defining prohibition, legalization and decriminalization Class discussion on pros and cons of approaches to drug policy

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What to expect in this lecture
What to Expect in This Lecture

  • Defining prohibition, legalization and decriminalization

  • Class discussion on pros and cons of approaches to drug policy

  • Introduction of “harm reduction” as an alternative approach to drug policy

  • Class discussion of what a “harm reduction” policy might look like


  • General policy orientation that defines cultivation, production, distribution and possession of substances as criminal

  • Involves enforcement of laws at five levels:

    • Source reduction

    • Border interdiction

    • Disruption of high-level distribution networks (federal level)

    • Disruption of wholesale distribution networks (state level)

    • Disruption of retail distribution networks (state and local levels)


  • A general policy orientation that involves the lifting of all criminal and civil proscriptions and sanctions

  • Three separate policy options:

    • Laissez Faire Model

    • Limited Distribution Model

    • Medical Model


  • Similar to legalization, but with unique features

  • Is not simply a “compromise” between legalization and prohibition

  • Policy that removes criminal sanctions for small amounts of marijuana

  • Nevertheless, growing or possessing marijuana is not legal—it is simply a civil offense rather than a criminal offense

  • Currently, 12 states have some form of marijuana decriminalization legislation (see table 11.1)

Class discussion debating drug policy
Class Discussion:Debating Drug Policy

  • What are the advantages of:

    • Prohibition?

    • Legalization?

    • Decriminalization?

  • What are the disadvantages of each of these policies?

  • Based on these advantages and disadvantages, how might we approach drug policy for the 21st century

Harm reduction a policy alternative
Harm Reduction:A Policy Alternative

  • Harm reductionis a general policy orientation that shifts focus away from legal status of drugs to policies and practices that would reduce harm caused by drugs and drug policies

  • Based on the following premises:

    • Drug use will never be totally eliminated

    • Drug policies are sometimes more damaging than drug use

    • Risks of drug use should be weighed against the risks posed by drug policies

Harm reduction three levels of intervention
Harm Reduction:Three Levels of Intervention

Harm reduction a viable policy approach
Harm Reduction:A Viable Policy Approach?

  • Discuss the appropriateness of the following harm reduction strategies:

    • Drug Education

    • Needle Exchange Programs

    • Drug Use Zones