Drifting towards Prohibition 2.0 under the guise of reform

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As the ideologically driven nonsense that underpinned the Drug War becomes increasingly apparent and the need for drug law reform gathers momentum, it is important to recognise some of the subtle approaches and ideas expressed towards a drug reform model could well result in Prohibition 2.0. An approach that fails to fundamentally address the fallacies of  prohibition, perpetuates the drug apartheid and uses the medical profession and civil society as enforcers rather than the police, armed forces and customs.

What are the signs that could open the door to Prohibition 2.0? Well here are some common statements which on first impression, may appear to offer good support to a reform agenda, but on closer scrutiny these statements seriously risk replicating misinformation, and could open the door to new forms of state control, coercive treatment and punishment for people using the ‘wrong’ drugs.


  1. Drugs are dangerous that’s why we need strict regulation.
  2. Drug users shouldn’t go to prison, Drug Court is an effective alternative.
  3. We must accept our drug laws are out of date and need reforming.
  4. Drug use is not a crime problem it’s a public health problem.
  5. Soft drugs like cannabis should be decriminalised.
  6. NPS should be regulated, while unapproved NPS should be illegal to possess.
  7. People with substance use disorders should be forced to get treatment.
  8. Drugs that are legalised should only be available from approved suppliers.
  9. Tackling drug use through the criminal justice system was wrong we must tackle drug use through public health approaches.
  10. The drug war was a mistake but the state must protect people from the risk of addiction with strict controls over possession and supply.
  11. People diagnosed with substance use disorders cannot risk using drugs.
  12. Drug testing has an important role in public health and safety.
  13. Drug use is a problem we can’t eradicate so we must minimise it.
  14. Drug use isn’t a police problem it’s a medical issue.
  15. Only a small proportion of people use drugs and we are going to have to learn to accommodate them.
  16. We need to change drug laws not because drugs are safe, but because drugs are harmful and people are not being protected by current drug laws.
  17. Addiction is a brain disease so it shouldn’t be a criminal offence.


Perhaps most worrying is some reformers are calling for drug REGULATION, but this simply means state laws and policies to manage and control drugs (which is what we already have albeit done badly). Regulation is a broad and vague rally call to get behind. While it is more specifically understood as state overseen production, distribution, sale, advertising, labelling, storage and use of drugs, (which for example already happens for opiates), regulation may also continue to make the possession of certain drugs illegal. Substances that are unapproved and/or deemed unsafe by the state may, as in the case of the New Zealand model of regulation, be an offence to possess. This is prohibition by any other name, and replicates the present system of bifurcation.


Julian Buchanan, Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa, New  Zealand.

December 2015






7 thoughts on “Drifting towards Prohibition 2.0 under the guise of reform

      1. Julian. Yes it does look like I managed it in the end. Now looking forward to your posts on all things substance misuse and use. What are you doing with the new consultation exercise on the new up and coming Drug Strategy? I’m taking part as an individual but I could do with someone to run their eye over it just to make sure it makes sense and makes useful remarks. Thanks 🙂


  1. Julian, believe similarly that we have an inalienable right to partake of any available substance if we wish and to attempt to manufacture it for our own use if not. However, when it comes to the manufacture and supply of drugs of all sorts I have trouble understanding how a system could work unless it operated under state regulations currently medicinal drugs and the few legal non-medicinal drugs do.

    The problem is that although the current system is absurd, unjust and immoral, my picture of a consistent, responsible framework is unclear. Currently for a new antidepressant to come to market for instance, many millions are spent by the pharmaceutical company and the exclusive right to market the drug is protected by the state in order to ensure the investment is profitable and that the drug is safe enough to offer based on clinical trials. Clearly it makes no sense for drugs that have beem used recreationally for centuries to suddenly be subject to the same regulation, and yet if NPS were to be treated differently, so sold similarly to alcohol is now, how could the pharmaceutical industry adapt to accommodate a society where the same drugs or very similar ones are available from the supermarket? Or the pub? The problem as I see it is that for meaningful drug reform, the entire pharmaceutical industry must be reinvented as well as the alcohol industry. What would it look like in your view? Presumably there should be standards and a professional code of conduct that applies to those manufacturing and selling these substances and I would imagine some licensing system that is credible and promotes confidence and trust in the products available.


    1. I agree possession, production, cultivation for personal use should be legal, but production and supply for sale to others -business needs to be strictly regulated.
      As you say this raises questions and issues for pharmaceuticals, long standing drugs used for pleasure, NPS and I would argue substances like fructose syrup, aspartame, cocao etc regulated as foods. It is hard to justify separate systems and bringing them altogether one day under one rational, scientifically informed system would be most desirable and logical.


  2. Prohibition is almost like a form reverse psychology. How? When you try to prohibit something, usage will in some cases persist. The only thing about it that I would prohibit is under age use. If under the age of 21, use is prohibited unless a prescription filled by a physician for medical uses is authorized. Over the age of 21, use it all you want. Do I think drugs should be illegal? No. Would I ever touch them? Absolutely not. Quite honestly, I don’t believe in policing other people’s personal activities or what they choose to put in their bodies as long as they are not doing anything to affect me directly.


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