Drugs and crime

It’s not just drug dealers who will be arrested if they get caught. Carrying drugs for personal use could get you a large fine or time in prison too. It’s a good idea to understand the laws surrounding drug classifications, possession and intent to supply

Drugs and the law

It's illegal:

  • to have or own drugs
  • to supply anyone with drugs
  • to make drugs
  • to import or export drugs

It's also illegal to allow premises you own, rent, use or occupy to be used for any drug-related activity.

If you are found with drugs near a school, youth facility or location where young people formally meet, the courts will treat this as an aggravating issue can impose higher penalties.

Drug dependency

For many drug users, increased drug use can lead to dependency and this condition can lead to many new problems. As drug misuse and dependency increases it can become more difficult to work and maintain a job. This can lead to financial problems as bills, such as mortgages, rent and rates, together with other household bills, cannot be paid.

Even social security benefits might not be enough income to pay for drug use. Money may need to be borrowed and if repayments can't be met, this brings other problems.

As drug misuse increases, some people may use crime, such as burglary, to find items that can be stolen and sold to others to raise money to buy more drugs. Others may resort to more serious crimes such as robbery, theft, extortion - anything to secure money to buy drugs. Some people will resort to dealing to raise income, but if caught by the police this can lead to higher penalties being given by a court.

It is important to realise that getting involved in drugs can bring many other problems that can affect your health, your relationships with your family and friends, your financial wellbeing and where you live.

How drugs are classified

Drugs are put into one of three categories, according to how dangerous they are and the impact they have on society - not necessarily the individual. It’s worth remembering that different drugs affect people in different ways. Drugs in all classes, not just those in ‘Class A’, are very dangerous.

The three categories of drugs are Class A, Class B and Class C:

  • heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD are Class A drugs
  • speed, cannabis, ketamine, mephedrone and some amphetamines are Class B drugs
  • anabolic steroids, GHB and some tranquilisers are Class C drugs

 “Temporary Class Drug Banning Orders” are for psychoactive substances (sometimes mislabelled as legal highs).

The chemical composition of these new substances changes quickly. A temporary banning order allows a substance to be banned until analysis can be carried out to assess the potential risks to human health.

Possessing drugs

If the police stop you and you are in possession of drugs, it is likely that you will be arrested. The drugs found will be seized and destroyed.

If you're caught with drugs you may be charged with possessing (or possession with intent to supply - a much more serious offence) controlled drugs, whether it's yours or not. If you're aged 17 or under, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you've been caught.

If the police find you with drugs, the punishment that you receive will depend on the class of drug, the quantity of drugs found, where you are found (if found close to a school or youth club, the court can give a higher sentence) and your personal history (previous crimes, but importantly, any previous drug offences).

For example, if you are under 18 years old and found with a Class C drug, and depending on the circumstances, it should be anticipated that, as a minimum, you will receive a formal (recorded) warning and a police caution. You may also be referred to the police Youth Diversion Scheme. If over 18 years it should be anticipated that you will receive a caution and further action, such as prosecution, will depend upon the decision reached by the Public Prosecution Service.

History of drug offences

If you're found with a Class A or B drug and have a history of drug offences, you will be prosecuted.

The maximum sentences for possession of each class of drug are:

  • up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine (or both) for a Class A drug
  • up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine (or both) for a Class B drug
  • up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine (or both) for a Class C drug

Sentences can increase if you are dealing drugs or supplying them - even if it's just to friends with no money changing hands.


Cannabis is illegal. It's a Class B drug.

The maximum penalty for possession of cannabis is five years imprisonment. A magistrate's court can also impose a fine of up to £2,500.

If you're prosecuted for supplying or producing an illicit drug, the maximum prison sentence is14 years.

Psychoactive substances (sometimes mislabelled as legal highs)

It's an offence to produce, supply or offer to supply any psychoactive substance if the substance is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects.

Nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and "Poppers" or alkyl nitrites aren't classed as psychoactive substances. Medicine defined by the Human Medicines Regulations (2012) and drugs controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) aren't considered psychoactive substances.

Possession of a psychoactive substance in a ‘custodial institution’ (prison, young offender centre, removal centre and so on) will be an offence.

The importing of a psychoactive substance, which would include buying a psychoactive substance from a non-UK based website, may lead to individuals being prosecuted. 

Possessing any psychoactive substance with intent to supply, supplying or offering to supply, producing, importing or exporting, all carry a penalty of either up to six months' imprisonment or a fine, or up to seven years' imprisonment or a fine.

Offences with psychoactive substances could be considered ‘aggravated’ if they involved supply to under 18s, were near a school or a children’s home.

Intent to supply and dealing

Supplying drugs doesn’t just apply to dealers. If police suspect you're going to share drugs with your friends, this is still considered to be supplying.

Being suspected of supplying drugs means you're likely to be charged. The amount of drugs found on you and whether you have a criminal record, will be taken into account when a punishment is being decided.

The maximum sentences for intent to supply drugs are:

  • up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both for a Class A drug
  • up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both for a Class B or Class C drug

Other restrictions

If you're found guilty of a drug offence, this could affect your future. You might not be able to follow the career you want. Some countries won't let you in even as a tourist, if you're convicted for a drug offence.

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