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Drug Information - The Laws

The law on drugs is complex. But if you're caught with an illegal substance ignorance won't wash with the police.

Knowing the score means:

  • Understanding the laws which govern different drugs:
  • Understanding your rights if suspected of possession, or possession with intent to supply a controlled substance.

The Misuse of Drugs Act divides drugs into three classes:

Class A:

  • Ecstasy, LSD (acid), magic mushrooms prepared for use, heroin, methadone, crack, cocaine, opium, and any class B drug prepared for injection.
  • Less common substances: dextromoramide (e.g. Palfium), dipipanone, fentanyl, mescaline, pethidine, PCP, all parts of the seeds of the opium poppy (after mowing).
  • Max. penalties: possession: 7 years prison and/or a fine, supply: life imprisonment and/or a fine.

Class B:

  • Amphetamines (speed),  barbiturates, and codeine. less common substances: dexamphetamine, dihydrocodeine (DF0118), methaqualone, methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin), phenmetrazine (Filon)
  • Max penalties: possession: 5 years prison and/or a fine, supply: 14 years prison and/or a fine.

Class C:

  • Cannabis, some tranquillisers like Temazepam, the supply of anabolic steroids.
  • Max penalties: possession: 2 years prison and/or a fine, supply: 5 years prison and/or a fine.

These penalties are given in a Crown Court. In a Magistrates Court, where less serious offences are dealt with, the maximum sentence is six months imprisonment and a 5000 pound fine. The actual sentence you're likely to get will also depend on:

  • The drug involved.
  • Any previous criminal record.
  • Your personal circumstances (i.e. being a single parent).
  • The attitude of the presiding magistrate/judge.

Some other drugs are controlled by the Medicines Act. It may not be illegal to possess drugs such as prescription medicines, ketamine or GHB (gammahydroxybutyrate) but supply is still an offence.

Other drug laws

Most drugs are covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. These ones aren't:

  • Alcohol: It is illegal to sell alcohol to under-18.s (unless you're 16 or 17 and having a meal in a restaurant). Police have legal powers to confiscate alcohol from under-18s drinking in public. Where there's a local bylaw, they can already do this.
  • Gases, glues and aerosols: It is not illegal to use, but a shopkeeper can be prosecuted for selling a solvent to an under-18 year old who they know will use it for sniffing.
  • Cigarettes: It is illegal for a shopkeeper knowingly to sell to an under-16 year old. However, it is not illegal for an under-16 year old to smoke.
  • Amyl nitrites (poppers): Amyl nitrite is a prescription-only medicine. Possession is not an offence, but supply is restricted by the Medicines Act. Butyl and Isobutyl nitrite are not restricted in any way. The stuff available from jokes and sex shops is usually butyl or isobutyl nitrite. If any amyl nitrite is present, however, then supply is restricted. Use is not.

Advice and support:

Talk to Frank gives free information and advice about drugs. Call 0800 776600.

The charity Release gives advice on drugs and legal problems - their helpline number is 020 7749 4034.

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