It is now 40 years since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and in the words of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, ‘the war on drugs has been lost’. Despite billions spent, drug use has not been reduced. This pamphlet uses systems theory to examine why, uncovering a debate locked between two fundamentally opposed perspectives: prohibition and legalisation.

Being Real On Drugs starts from the position that these different perspectives are not wrong, but incomplete. Part of the complexity of the ‘system’ of drugs policy derives from these perspectives; without appreciating them policies will continue to generate unintended consequences. According to systems theory, such consequences arise whenever policies are based on an inadequate appreciation of how a complex system operates, or when a system evolves and policy fails to evolve in step. This pamphlet argues that both are the case when it comes to drug policy.

Rather than choose between the different perspectives, the report aims to synthesise them. This requires politicians to shift their way of thinking and talking about drug users, a shift that should include more honest consideration of the positive benefits of drug use. What is needed is a different way of thinking and talking about drug policy, one that recognises the reality of drug users and the full spectrum of drug experiences available. It is not a question of being hard or soft on drugs; what is required is to be real on drugs.