The penalties for possession and supply depend on the class the drug belongs to. The maximum penalties under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) are as follows:
|Class A||7 years + fine||Life + fine|
|Class B||5 years + fine||14 years + fine|
|Class C||2 years + fine||14 years + fine|
These include: cocaine and crack, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth), fresh and prepared magic mushrooms.
These include: amphetamine (not methamphetamine), barbiturates, codeine, ketamine, synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice and cannabis. All cathinone derivatives, including mephedrone, methylone, methedrone and MDPV were brought under control as Class B substances in 2010.
These include: anabolic steroids, minor tranquillisers or benzodiazepines, GBL and GHB, khat and BZP.
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.
- 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 law is even more complicated by the fact that some drugs are covered by other legislation, are not covered at all, or are treated in an exceptional way under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Temporary Class Drug Orders
On 15th November 2011, The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was amended to allow the Home Secretary to place a new psychoactive substance not already controlled as a Class A, B or C drug but causing concerns, under temporary control by invoking a temporary class drug order.
Temporary class drug orders (TCDO) come into immediate effect and last for up to 12 months. This period allows the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) time to provide expert advice on the temporary class drug and its potential harms. During or at the end of the 12 month period the TCDO is subject to Parliamentary review. The review considers the independent report given by the ACMD.
After 12 months the TCDO will expire unless it is brought under permanent control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or extended.
Offences committed under the 1971 Act in relation to a temporary class drug are subject to the following maximum penalties –
- 14 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine on indictment
- and 6 months’ imprisonment and a £5,000 fine on summary conviction.
Simple possession of a temporary class drug is not an offence under the 1971 Act.
Read more about TCDOs here
Sentences in practice
Maximum sentences differ according to the nature of the offence – less for possession; more for trafficking, production, or for allowing premises to be used for producing or supplying drugs. They also vary according to how harmful the drug is thought to be.
Less serious offences are usually dealt with by magistrates’ courts, where sentences can’t exceed six months and/or a £5,000 fine, or three months and/or a fine. Most drug offenders are convicted of unlawful possession. Although maximum penalties are severe, only around one in five people convicted of possession receive a custodial sentence and even fewer actually go to prison, with the majority of fines £50 or less.
If you have any further enquiries about drug use and the law or need help with a legal problem relating to drugs please see the Release website
See more information about our various drug laws here.
Updated January 2017