What are the penalties for possessing or supplying drugs?

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:

Drug class Possession Supply
Class A 7 years + fine Life + fine
Class B 5 years + fine 14 years + fine
Class C 2 years + fine 14 years + fine

Class A drugs:

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

Class B drugs:

These include amphetamine, barbiturates, codeine, cannabis and mephedrone.

Class C drugs:

These include mild amphetamines, anabolic steroids, minor tranquillisers, GHB/GBL and ketamine.


  1. 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.
  2. Poppers (liquid gold, amyl or butyl nitrite) are not covered by the MDA and are not illegal to possess or buy. They are often sold in joke and sex shops but also in some pubs, clubs, tobacconists and sometimes music or clothes shops used by young people. Though not fully tested in court, the Medicines Control Agency has stated that poppers is regarded by them as a medicine and so falls under the Medicines Act 1968. This allows only licensed outlets, such as chemists, to sell the drug.
  3. Solvents (aerosols, gases, glues etc.) are not covered by the MDA and are not illegal to possess, use or buy at any age. In England and Wales it is an offence for a shopkeeper to sell them to an under 18 year old if they know they are to be used for intoxicating purposes. It is illegal for shopkeepers to sell lighter fuel (butane) to under-18s whether or not they know it will be used for intoxicating purposes.
  4. Anabolic Steroids are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act as class C drugs but their legal status is complicated. In most situations the possession offence is waived meaning that people who possess or use steroids without a prescription are unlikely to be prosecuted. However, police in some areas of the UK have successfully prosecuted people for possession of steroids when the steroids have not been in the form of a medicinal product. It is always an offence to sell or supply steroids to another person. People can also be prosecuted for possession with intent to supply if they have large quantities of steroids without a prescription for them.
  5. Minor Tranquillisers (librium, valium etc) are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act as Class C drugs but the possession offence is waived so that it is not illegal to possess or use them without a prescription. It is an offence to sell or supply them to another person. The exception is temazepam and rohypnol tranquillisers which are illegal to be in possession of without a prescription.
  6. The law on magic mushrooms changed on July 18 2005. Mushrooms or any fungus containing psilocin or an ester of psilocin have been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act and are now class A.

In the 12 months ending September 2012, there were 217,737 recorded drug offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act. As a result of these offences, there were:

71,553 cannabis warnings
15,756 penalty notices for disorder
43,617 cautions issued
100,878 criminal proceedings,
and 90,274 convictions.
(Source: Ministry of Justice – Criminal Justice Statistics, Quarterly Update to September 2012)

What happens to people who commit drug offences varies in different parts of the UK. Police forces in some areas are more likely to caution than in other areas. Some local police forces are more likely than others to charge people and take them to court. What happens in courts also varies. Some courts are more likely to give out prison sentences or large fines than others. This depends on the attitudes of judges and magistrates. Police stations can also pass on information or provide counselling for those who may need help with their drug use. Some courts may also refer those convicted and who have drug use problems to a Drug Treatment and Testing Order. This is a type of community sentence that includes a course of treatment to replace all or part of their jail sentence.