Legalization Of Drugs See Policy


LEGAL REGULATION OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL Legal regulation can be used in four general ways to influence the incidence, prevalence, patterns, and circumstances of consumption of potentially harmful substances—including ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, and other DRUGS. The most direct mode of legal intervention is to establish the conditions under which a potentially harmful substance is available. In doing so, the law can employ either

(1) a "prohibitory" scheme that prohibits the production or distribution of the substance for nonmedical or self-defined uses, or

(2) a "regulatory" regime, which permits the substance to be lawfully available for nonmedical or self-defined uses but that may regulate the product, its price, and the conditions under which it is accessible.

A completely successful prohibition would prevent any nonmedical consumption of the proscribed substance; however, the more likely consequence of a prohibitory scheme is that an illicit distribution system will arise to respond to whatever demand exists for the substance. In that case, the manner in which the prohibition is enforced can also influence the product, its price, and the conditions under which it is available.

A second mode of legal regulation is to regulate the flow of information and messages regarding use of the particular substance. The government may initiate its own informational efforts to influence attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Government may also attempt to influence private communications, either by proscribing certain messages altogether or by regulating or restricting their content. Such restrictions have generally taken two forms— mandatory warnings and proscriptions of certain types of messages.

A third mode of legal control is the direct regulation of consumption, either by proscribing and imposing sanctions for undesired behavior or by withholding benefits or privileges to which the individual would otherwise be entitled. Thus, the law may proscribe use of a substance altogether, or it may prohibit such behavior in certain specified circumstances. Examples of total bans include unauthorized possession and consumption of controlled substances and consumption of alcohol by persons under the minimum age. Situational prohibitions include laws against consuming alcohol or smoking tobacco in public areas. Laws that require drug testing of workers and that permit job termination or discipline as a consequence of a positive test illustrate less coercive measures of deterrence.

A fourth use of the law emphasizes its declarative aspects. Whether or not a legal control has a direct impact on the marketplace or on the prevalence of the disapproved behavior, it may symbolize and express the official government view of the behavior and may generate derivative effects on behavioral patterns by influencing attitudes and beliefs. To the extent that citizens customarily defer to and respect the law or are influenced by messages of official approval or disapproval, a declaration of illegality may serve an educative, or didactic, role. Specification of a minimum drinking age, regulation of the availability of drug PARAPHERNALIA, and sanctions for possession of illicit drugs may all generate these symbolic effects, even if the direct effects tend to be modest.

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