Regulated drug markets in practice: Licensed premises.2019-05-17T12:38:02+00:00

How would ‘on premise’ licensed sales work?

A cannabis coffee shop in Amsterdam

Pubs and bars serving alcohol offer the most common example of outlets licensed for sale and consumption on the premises. Under this long-established system, a controls can be established over both the venue and the licensee.  Controls over the venue includes conditions such as hours of sale and the physical infrastructure. In principle, individuals holding personal licences can be required to undergo training and, as is the case for alcohol sales in Scotland, undergo a ‘fit and proper person’ test to help ensure retailers are responsible.

The licensing authority is usually a tier of local government, which manages and enforces a series of centrally determined regulations. A clearly defined hierarchy of sanctions for licence infringements includes a sliding scale of licence reviews, loss of licence, and even criminal penalties. Licensees can also be held responsible for how their premises are run, and whether they create anti-social behaviour, noise or other kinds of public nuisance.

The cannabis ‘coffee shop’ system in the Netherlands offers an example of outlets licensed to sell for consumption on the premises. This model has allowed Dutch authorities to go some way towards legally licensing the sale and consumption of cannabis. However, it should be noted that, even here, the cannabis trade is not subject to full legal regulation. The supply cannabis to the coffee shops remains illicit, even though low level supply and consumption within them is tolerated. The coffee shops themselves operate under a range of strict—and strictly policed—conditions.

  • Supervised venues for the dispensing and consumption of prescribed diamorphine (heroin) are another form of licensed venue. They are subject to strict licensing, regular external scrutiny and firm enforcement, although they only provide drugs on a prescription basis.
  • Lessons can also be learned from licensing and regulating regimes put in place to manage other restricted (and potentially harmful) activities including gambling, certain kinds of entertainment, and sex work.
  • The examples given above suggest that a functioning licensed premises for drugs would remain relatively restricted in terms of how it offered drugs, and who it offered them to. Given this, it could combine elements of existing licensed premises, licensed sales, and specialist pharmacy models, to ensure that moderate drug use took place in a safer, more supportive environment.

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