Drugs and the law
The country's drug laws are designed to limit drug abuse, and keep
Drug laws perform many different functions:
help protect people from harm
punish the criminals who keep the illegal drug-trade going
minimise the negative effects of illegal drugs on communities
The laws are complex and constantly changing, but they must adapt with drug
criminals they seek to stop.
Drug penalties and illegality ties in with how each drug is classed. Drugs can
be Class A, B or C.
Class A drugs are the most dangerous, and the legal penalties related
to them are the most serious.
Class B drugs are considered less dangerous, and the legal penalties
involved are lower.
Class C drugs are considered the least dangerous illegal drugs.
Class A, B and C drugs
The different kinds of illegal drugs are divided into three different categories,
or classes. These classes (A, B and C) carry different levels of penalty for
possession and dealing.
The Misuse of Drugs Act is the main piece of legislation covering drugs and
Penalties for possession and dealing
Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, Up to seven years in Up to life in
Class crack, magic mushrooms, prison or an prison or an
A amphetamines (if prepared for unlimited fine or unlimited fine or
injection). both. both.
Up to five years in Up to 14 years in
Class prison or an prison or an
B unlimited fine or unlimited fine or
Up to two years in Up to 14 years in
Tranquilisers, some painkillers,
Class prison or an prison or an
Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB),
C unlimited fine or unlimited fine or
All of the drugs on the list above - whether Class A, B or C - are designated
as controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and using
them is illegal.
Class A drugs are considered to be the most likely to cause harm.
The Misuse of Drugs Act states that it is an offence to:
possess a controlled substance unlawfully
possess a controlled substance with intent to supply it
supply or offer to supply a controlled drug (even if it is given away for
allow a house, flat or office to be used by people taking drugs
The punishment is serious
Drug trafficking attracts serious punishment, including life imprisonment for
Class A offences.
To enforce this law the police have special powers to stop, detain and search
people under the 'reasonable suspicion’ that they are in possession of a
Cannabis is a Class B drug.
The government reclassified cannabis from Class C to Class B in January
2009. The decision was part of the drug strategy: Drugs: protecting families
Why Class B?
Classing cannabis in Class B reflects the fact that skunk, a much stronger
version of the drug, now dominates in the UK. Skunk has swept many less
potent forms of cannabis off the market, and now accounts for more than 80%
of cannabis available on our streets, compared to just 30% in 2002.
The classification of cannabis means:
the government will robustly enforce laws on cannabis supply and
police and other agencies will work to shut down cannabis farms and
arrest the organised criminals who run them
the consideration of additional aggravating sentencing factors for those
caught supplying cannabis near schools
Current penalties related to cannabis
Penalties for supply, dealing, production and trafficking
The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment.
Penalties for possession
The maximum penalty is five years imprisonment.
Young people in possession of cannabis
A young person found to be in possession of cannabis will be arrested and
taken to a police station where they can receive a reprimand, final warning or
charge depending on the seriousness of the offence.
Following one reprimand, any further offence will lead to a final warning or
charge. Any further offence following a warning will normally result in criminal
charges. After a final warning, the young offender must be referred to a Youth
Offending Team to arrange a rehabilitation programme.
This police enforcement is consistent with the structured framework for early
juvenile offending established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Adults in possession of cannabis
Most offences of possession result in a warning and confiscation of the drug.
Some instances may lead to arrest and possible caution or prosecution,
smoking in a public place
threatening public order