The scientific portrayal of decriminalisation models for psychoactive substances: a scoping review
Although the main political framework concerning psychoactive substances is a prohibitionist one, scientific research and socioeconomic/sociodemographic indicators have exposed its negative consequences (e.g., increasing number of inmates). An alternative policy, already applied in some countries, is decriminalization, which, nonetheless, remains a discredited strategy with relatively unknown contours and effects.
This scoping review aims to analyse existing studies in the field, mapping their objectives, methods used and conclusions, and highlighting eventual research gaps. For such, a three-stage design was performed by two independent reviewers: Stage one - initial search including an analysis of titles, abstracts and index terms used by researchers, creating a list of common terms/keywords used to refer to decriminalization; Stage two - this list was used as a tool to refine the search on various databases for papers that met the pre-established inclusion criteria (studies, using quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods research, published after 1970 that reference decriminalization policies or deprioritisation of drug use/trade as a criminal offense; studies solely about legalization or prohibition, about pharmaceutical drugs, or regarding decriminalization of other phenomena, were excluded); Stage three - screening of the selected articles’ full-text; inter-rater agreement was determined by Cohen's Kappa and discrepancies solved by consensus. A tool was created to extract data and synthesis was based on the Arksey and O`Malley and Joanna Briggs Scoping Review methodologies. We also contacted authors and organizations active within the phenomenon of interest, to identify unpublished/ongoing studies, and executed a targeted search for grey literature on relevant organisations’ websites.
The results enable us to produce an instrument for the characterization of all scientific production in this field, depicting how researchers approach decriminalization, and to disclose, in a valid/pragmatic way, viable measures that decision makers can implement, which may operate positive changes in the legal, educational, medical and criminal realms of our society.