Classifying alternative approaches for simple drug possession: A two-level taxonomy

Alex Stevens, Caitlin Hughes, Shann Hulme, Rebecca Cassidy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Increasing international attention is being given to alternative
measures to criminalization for the possession of illicit drug. Such schemes are
heterogeneous and a clear conceptual framework for their discussion and
analysis is lacking.
Aim: To present a conceptually informed, empirically based taxonomy for the
classification of alternative measures to decriminalization for the possession of
Methods: The research uses qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) of
existing alternative measures. It proceeds from analysis of existing distinctions
between and classifications of alternative measures. It uses data from a realist
review of alternative measures in nine countries (Australia, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Germany, Jamaica, Netherland, Portugal, UK and USA) to derive three
dimensions of comparison (whether they: are de jure or de facto; involve
diversion to an educative, therapeutic of social service; involve the use of
civil/administrative sanctions). A QCA truth table using data from twenty-six
schemes in the nine countries is used to identify types in the taxonomy. The types
are grouped - using pragmatic reduction informed by Boolean minimization
across a smaller number of classes in order to create a two-level taxonomy.
Results: The resulting taxonomy contains six types of alternative measures:
depenalization; de facto diversion; de jure diversion; decriminalization with
diversion and civil sanctions, decriminalization with civil sanctions; and
decriminalization with no sanctions. The six types fall into three classes:
depenalization; diversion; and decriminalization. It is possible to classify emerging
alternatives into this new taxonomy.
Conclusion: Conceptually informed empirical observation of cases enables
the construction of a two-level taxonomy of alternative measures to
criminalization for the simple possession of drugs. This may facilitate clearer and
better-informed discussion of alternatives to criminalization for drug possession
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
JournalNorthern Kentucky Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • drug policy
  • decriminalisation
  • criminal law
  • drug
  • qualitative comparative analysis


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