The regulation project: Tools for engaging the public in the legal regulation of drugs

Scott Bernstein at the front of a room giving a presentation with a projector

By Scott Bernstein, Emily Amirkhani, Dan Werb, and Donald MacPherson


Lack of legal regulation and oversight of scheduled drugs in Canada has led to an unsafe drug supply responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. In addition to contributing to the worst unregulated drug poisoning crisis in Canada’s history, the policy framework prohibiting non-medical access to certain drugs has exacerbated numerous public health and safety concerns. An alternative approach to prohibition is for government to retake control of the currently illegal drug market through legal regulatory mechanisms.

This paper presents the work of an ongoing international collaboration of organizations advocating legal regulation and some of the knowledge translation tools used to educate and engage the public on legal regulation within Canada. In order to encourage thinking and decision-making among stakeholders in a productive way, models of legal regulation for various substances were created as discussion tools to emerge values and considerations supporting different approaches.

The models focus on five questions: 1) who has access to drugs; 2) how access is obtained; 3) where drugs can be accessed; 4) how much people can obtain; and 5) where drugs can be consumed. The models were presented to stakeholders in the context of an international meeting on legal regulation, and then adapted to a more “user-friendly” form: a collaborative negotiation-based Regulation Game, which was presented at a workshop in Montréal, Canada.

Engaging different stakeholder groups on policy choices of legal regulation revealed initial barriers that we feel more confident can be overcome through creative and innovative tools such as the Regulation Game. Use of the game as a foundation for more traditional focus groups could be effective in reducing barriers to fulsome policy discussions on legal regulation.

This article was part of a Special Issue in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Read the full Special Issue here.