You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:
- take drugs
- carry drugs
- make drugs
- sell, deal or share drugs (also called ‘supplying’ them)
The penalties depend on the type of drug or substance, the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing it.
Types of drugs
The maximum penalties for drug possession, supply (selling, dealing or sharing) and production depend on what type or ‘class’ the drug is.
|Drug||Possession||Supply and production|
|Class A||Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA ), heroin, LSD , magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth)||Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Class B||Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (for example mephedrone, methoxetamine)||Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Class C||Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB ), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL ), piperazines (BZP ), khat||Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both (except anabolic steroids – it’s not an offence to possess them for personal use)||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Temporary class drugs*||Some methylphenidate substances (ethylphenidate, 3,4-dichloromethylphenidate (3,4-DCMP), methylnaphthidate (HDMP-28), isopropylphenidate (IPP or IPPD), 4-methylmethylphenidate, ethylnaphthidate, propylphenidate) and their simple derivatives||None, but police can take away a suspected temporary class drug||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
*The government can ban new drugs for 1 year under a ‘temporary banning order’ while they decide how the drugs should be classified.
Psychoactive substances penalties
Psychoactive substances include things like nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’).
You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:
- carry a psychoactive substance and you intend to supply it
- make a psychoactive substance
- sell, deal or share a psychoactive substance (also called supplying them)
|Psychoactive substances||Possession||Supply and production|
|Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others||None, unless you’re in prison||Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
Food, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, medicine and the types of drugs listed above do not count as psychoactive substances.
You may be charged with possessing an illegal substance if you’re caught with drugs, whether they’re yours or not.
If you’re under 18, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you’ve been caught with drugs.
Your penalty will depend on:
- the class and quantity of drug
- where you and the drugs were found
- your personal history (previous crimes, including any previous drug offences)
- other aggravating or mitigating factors
Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if you’re found with cannabis.
Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £60 on the first 2 times that you’re found with khat. If you’re found with khat more than twice, you could get a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Dealing or supplying drugs
The penalty is likely to be more severe if you are found to be supplying drugs (dealing, selling or sharing).
The police will probably charge you if they suspect you of supplying drugs. The amount of drugs found and whether you have a criminal record will affect your penalty.
Talk to FRANK has help, information and advice about drugs.
The penalties if you are caught taking or dealing drugs – drug classification, fines and prison sentences
UK Cannabis Law
Class B under Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
Three strikes system and £90 fine with police before going to court for possession
Zero tolerance on driving under the influence
Police must give a valid reason to perform a Stop and Search
Criminal penalties and prison time for cultivation
The UK Government’s Stance On Cannabis
The Government insist that they have no intention of changing the laws surrounding activities relating to cannabis and continue to reinforce a non-scientific, non-evidence based policy. Their official line is:
“Cannabis is a very harmful, very dangerous drug that can cause huge mental health problems and addiction”
“Cannabis has no medicinal benefits in herbal form”.
Their reason for classifying cannabis as a “controlled” substance they say, is to protect people from themselves.
In the UK, illegal drugs are classified into three main categories. They can be Class A, B or C, with A attracting the most serious punishments and fines.
Each drug is designated as controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and is allocated to a class based on the harm it is considered to cause.
Cannabis is a Class B Drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Although it is given the title of a “controlled substance” there is actually very little control that anyone has over it. The commercial market is completely illicit leaving the main share controlled by organised crime and completely unregulated. There is no control over who produces it, who sells it, who it is sold to, or even that the quality of the product is safe to consume.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is an offence:
- to unlawfully possess a controlled drug
- to possess a controlled drug with intent to supply it
- to unlawfully supply (sell/give/share) a controlled drug
- to allow premises you occupy or manage to be used for the smoking or use of drugs
|Class||Drug||Possession||Supply & Production|
|A||Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstacy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth)||Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|B||Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (e.g. mephedrone, methoxetamine), ketamine||Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|C||Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines (BZP), khat||Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
The police do not have general powers, apart from those specified in a statute, to stop and search you. You should always ask a police officer to explain on what basis they are searching you. If no search power exists you should not be searched unless you are entering sports grounds or other premises and your consent to the search is a condition of entry.
The only time you must give your personal details to the Police is if you are being cautioned or arrested and you have been told what offence you have committed and what act of law you have broken. Failure to give your name and address to the police in the event of being served a £90 fine for possession can result in arrest and being detained at a Police station.
Stop And Account & Stop And Search
Police do however, have the power to stop you in a public place or while in your vehicle and request the reason why you are in the place to make sure you have a valid reason. This is called a Stop and Account and is designed to assist in removing doubt of suspicious activity in an area.
If the Police provide a valid reason to believe that you may be in possession of an item that you should not be or that is in breach of the law then they will inform you that they want to perform a Stop And Search on you.
There must be at least two officers present and if it is a female being searched a female officer must be present and perform the search.
Advice from Y STOP a help and information service on Stop and Search suggest that you ask these questions if you are being asked to take part in a Stop and Search.
ASK QUESTIONS Treat it as a conversation not a confrontation.
When a police officer asks you reasonable questions, answer them and ask questions, also. You do not have to give them any personal details, but the police need to account for everything they do.
Ask the officer the 4 Ws:
”On what grounds?”, what legal power are they using;
• “What are you looking for?” The object of the search;
• “Who are you?” See their badge or warrant if they are not in uniform;
•”The station where they are registered?” It is important to ask if you are being detained or are free to leave.
You can download the full Y Stop advice pamphlet here.
Adults (18+) In Possession Of Cannabis
Section 5 of the MDA71 prohibits possession. If caught in possession of cannabis, as well as considering arrest and confiscating the drug, police are likely to:
- give a cannabis warning for a first offence of possession – this is a written warning that does not show up on the PCN and should not show on CRB checks often carried out by employers.
- give a Penalty Notice for Disorder – this is an on-the-spot fine of £90 for a second offence. You must pay this within 14 days or face going to court.
- make an arrest if it is the third offence of having been caught with cannabis or if it is over a certain weight – this could lead to conviction in court and a criminal record.
Section 4 of the MDA71 restricts the supplying of controlled substances.
Supply is anything from sharing a joint, offering or physically picking up another bag for your friend while you are getting your own, and even giving it away for free, no matter the quantity.
If you are involved in a raid on your premises and scales and baggies are found as well as things like tick lists and other evidence of dealing the chances are very high that you will be charged under “possession with intent to supply”
Punishment by the Act is from three years in prison. Sentencing Guidelines suggest different punishment severity depending on the circumstances and the weight of the controlled substance found.
Nb. Typically low level dealers are given suspended sentences but this should not be taken as a given.
Cultivation & Production
Section 6 of the MDA71 states cultivation is prohibited without holding a valid licence granted by the Home Office.
Cultivation includes the germination of cannabis seeds, the tending of plants, rooted cuttings, harvesting and drying of plants.
Production is an escalated charge of cultivation whereby the organised nature, scale of the operation or number of plants surpasses a limit set out by the Court Sentencing Guidelines. This limit is 25 plants and other supporting evidence such as scales, communications and baggies can play a factor. It carries a higher sentencing recommendation than cultivation.
Nb. Sentencing Guidelines for 9 plants and under is recommended as a suspended sentence for first time offenders. See the UKCSC Tagged Plant Collective Model for more advice.
If you have been stopped by the police and need to understand more about a specific area you may wish to look at some of our other pages.
Intent To Supply
Penalty Charge Notice
Drug Testing & Employment
For direct legal support please contact Release today.
If you have been affected by a cannabis law and need help with your case we strongly advise you get in touch with Release.org.uk and give them a call at your soonest convenience moment. They are experts in their field and are genuinely lovely people that will listen and give you the best legal advice possible.
Release is the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law. The organisation, founded in 1967, is an independent and registered charity.
Through our services the team provides free non-judgmental, specialist advice and information to the public and professionals on issues related to drug use and to drug laws.
The organisation campaigns directly on issues that impact on our clients – it is their experiences that drive the policy work that Release does and why we advocate for evidenced-based drug policies that are founded on principles of public health rather than a criminal justice approach.
Release believes in a just and fair society where drug policies should reduce the harms associated with drugs, and where those who use drugs are treated based on principles of human rights, dignity and equality.
The organisation is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, as well as being part of the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs (VNGOC) and the New York NGO Committee on Drugs (NYNGOC).
UK Cannabis Law Class B under Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 Three strikes system and £90 fine with police before going to court for possession Zero tolerance on driving under the influence