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The debate over alternative regimes for currently illicit psychoactive substances focuses on polar alternatives: harsh prohibition and sweeping legalization. This study presents an array of alternatives that lies between these extremes. The current debate lacks an explicit and inclusive framework for making comparative judgments. In this study, the authors sketch out such a framework, as a reminder of possible policy levers and their costs and benefits that might otherwise be neglected or go unrecognized. The framework identifies a range of pharmacological and economic characteristics of substances, potential harms and their bearers, and the sources of those harms, including drug use, trafficking, law enforcement, and illegal status per se. The framework highlights the difficulty of making objective, rigorous comparisons among regimes, but the authors believe that it can serve a useful heuristic role in promoting more constructive debate and identifying fruitful questions for research.

Originally published in: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, v. 15, no. 3, Summer 1996, pp. 330-352.

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