We already license the sale of drugs. Alcohol is sold in licensed premises – either for consumption ‘on’ the premises (such as a pub or bar), or for consumption ‘off’ the premises (such as a supermarket). Tobacco retailers also require a licence. Licensing allows regulatory authorities to set the conditions of sale: for example, when the product can be sold, how it is to be displayed, what training retailers need etc.
For some drugs, an ‘off-sales’ licensing model would be appropriate. This is the model for cannabis sales in Canada and much of North America. This approach allows a less restrictive, more flexible infrastructure for the sale of lower-risk non-medical products. Such a system allows regulatory controls to be established that manage the vendor, the supply outlet, the product and, possibly, the purchaser. However, they differ from ‘on-sales’ in not allowing the product to be consumed on the premises where it is sold.
As in alcohol licensing, the key framework would be set out in primary licensing legislation and implemented by local authorities. The local licensing authority would be able to tailor the regulatory framework to local needs and policy priorities. This can take the form of determining how many outlets should be allowed in a particular area, what the permitted hours of sale might be, how products can be displayed etc. As a condition of a licence, retailers could be required to offer advice about harm reduction, safer use, and treatment services, where appropriate. They may also be required to undergo necessary additional training in drug counselling, or to have pre-existing drug counselling experience.
The decisions of licensing authorities would be supported, and enforced, by police, trading standards, public health and other responsible authorities.