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Deconstructing prohibitionist ideology: A sociocognitive approach to understand opinions on UK drug policy and the law

Askew, R and Bone, M (2019) Deconstructing prohibitionist ideology: A sociocognitive approach to understand opinions on UK drug policy and the law. International Journal of Drug Policy, 74. pp. 33-40. ISSN 0955-3959 (In Press)

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Abstract

© 2019 Elsevier B.V. Background: There is increasing support to include people who use drugs (PWUD) into debates about drug policy reform in order to improve policy legitimacy and outcomes. The aim of this paper is thus to critically analyse the perspectives of PWUD on UK drug policy and the law. This is the first empirical study to apply the four philosophical positions that underpin drug policy debates: Millian liberalism, legal moralism, strict libertarianism and paternalism (MacCoun and Reuter, 2001) to understand opinions and ideology. Methods: Forty interviews were conducted with PWUD about the meaning of and motivation for their substance consumption and about their opinions on drug policy and the law. The responses were analysed using the sociocognitive approach pioneered by van Dijk 2014; 2015 from the field of critical discourse studies. The analysis involved connecting personal experiences, knowledge and opinions to broader values, attitudes and ideology, specifically the analysis focused upon the extent to which participants challenged or supported prohibitionist ideology. Results: The opinions of those PWUD studied were diverse and complex. There was some support for prohibition, but overwhelmingly there was resistance and challenge to it. We theorise the challenge to prohibitionist ideology on a continuum from anti-prohibition to pro-reform. Key themes from the analysis included: knowledge gaps regarding terminology; uncertainty about and lack of consideration of policy and reform; political dissonance; apprehension about public attitudes and behaviours; reform rooted in social welfare and human rights ideology; and apathy through counter-culture. Conclusion: The findings demonstrate a lack of clarity amongst some PWUD regarding drug policy and reform. Educational initiatives outlining the different reform approaches would therefore provide PWUD with invaluable knowledge and help facilitate their enagement into reform debates. Despite a lack of clarity and consistency within opinions, participants were united in their discussion of human rights, health, economics and education; therefore these topics could help frame future approaches that seek to include PWUD into debates about drug policy.

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