Drugs – The Law

Drugs and the law

A brief outline



This is a very complex area and this is intended to serve only as a rough guide.


If you do get into trouble, get proper legal advice at the earliest opportunity by contacting your solicitor or Release 0845 4500 215 (11am—1pm and 2pm—4pm Monday to Friday)

Email address: ask@release.org.uk  



Please note this section relates to UK law only


For a more comprehensive guide to UK laws and drugs, check out our Drugs and The Law guide. www.urban75.org/legal/drugs.html


The most important drugs laws in the UK are the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Misuse of Drugs regulations made under the Act (2001), and the Medicines Act 1968. The Misuse of Drugs Act divides controlled drugs into three categories, classified according to their perceived degree of harmfulness or danger to the individual and society, with penalties varying accordingly.


These categories are:


Class A:

These include, cocaine and crack (a form of cocaine), ecstasy, heroin, LSD, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth), magic mushrooms containing ester of psilocin and any Class B drug which is injected.


Class B:

These include amphetamine (not methamphetamine), barbiturates, codeine and cannabis.


Class C:

These include anabolic steroids and minor tranquillisers.


*Class A drugs are treated by the law as the most dangerous. Offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act can include:

  • Possession of a controlled drug.


  • Possession with intent to supply another person.


  • Production, cultivation or manufacture of controlled drugs.


  • Supplying another person with a controlled drug.


  • Offering to supply another person with a controlled drug.


  • Import or export of controlled drugs.


  • Allowing premises you occupy or manage to be used for the consumption of certain controlled drugs (smoking of cannabis or opium but not use of other controlled drugs) or supply or production of any controlled drug.


N.B. Certain controlled drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, methadone, minor tranquillisers and occasionally heroin can be obtained through a legitimate doctor’s prescription. In such cases their possession is not illegal.


The Act gives the police powers to stop and search persons, vehicles or vessels; to obtain search warrants to search properties; to seize anything which appears to be evidence of an offence; and to arrest persons suspected of having committed an offence under the Act.


The most common offence is possession of a controlled drug. This includes joint possession of a common pool of drugs and past possession, when past drug use is admitted. There is no offence if you are found in possession of a drug that you didn’t know was on your person (e.g. a friend put it in your pocket) but you might have to prove this later in court. By law, the police have to prove that you knew that you had the drugs on you.


More serious offences are supply and intent to supply. It’s important to remember that supply can also include selling or even giving drugs to a friend. If you are caught with drugs, saying that some are for a friend makes matter worse as you could also be convicted for supply.


Cultivation of cannabis is also an offence with more severe penalties if there is intent to supply. The heaviest penalties under the law are for importing and exporting drugs.





Dealing with a drug offender:

*Anyone who commits an offence against the Misuse of Drugs Act can be dealt with in a number of ways.


For minor offences (such as the possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal consumption), how you will be treated varies from area to area.


Some police forces always prosecute first time offenders with small amounts of drugs, while others are far more lenient, offering only a caution. This is a formal acknowledgement that the person has committed an offence and acts as a warning regarding future behaviour. A caution doesn’t count as a conviction, but may be brought up in future court proceedings. Details may also be disclosed to future employers if the person applies for certain types of jobs.


If the person has already been cautioned for a similar offence they may have to appear before a Magistrates’ Court and face a fine, suspended or short prison sentence.


For the more serious offences of supplying, possessing with intent to supply or illegally bringing drugs into the country, the person would usually face a trial before a judge and jury at a higher criminal court or Crown Court.


Penalties for drug related crimes change according to the defendant’s circumstances and record, but as a guide, these are the maximum penalties:


Class A: The maximum for possession is 7 years imprisonment with an unlimited fine, and for supply, life imprisonment and an unlimited fine.


Class B: The maximum for possession is 5 years or a fine or both, and for supply, 14 years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.






The Medicines Act:Medicines-Act-1968

Some of the drugs used on the dance scene are covered by the above act. It is not illegal to possess various drugs such as Ketamine and Amyl Nitrate, but any unauthorised manufacture and distribution of these substances are possibly offences.





Drugs and Driving:

Under the Road Traffic Act it is an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle when unfit through drugs. If found guilty there’s an obligatory 12 month’s disqualification and a fine. If you are involved in an incident whilst under the influence, stiffer penalties will apply.


Remember that you’re classed as being in charge of a vehicle even if you’re crashed out in the back seat snoozing.





Special note:

Urban75: This site is all about harm reduction. We realise that some people will take drugs no matter what advice they are given. This guide is to be for information purposes only. It is not medical advice. If you are being coerced into taking drugs, or are in any doubt about taking a substance, our advice is to always refuse.