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Drugs penalties

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.

Possessing drugs

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

Cannabis

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.

More information

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

Almost half the people in the UK are unaware that Medical Cannabis is legal

By Emily Ledger

Up to half of people in the UK are unaware that medical cannabis is legal in the UK, according to an ongoing poll by Canex. Out of 13,254 respondents, 46% revealed that they were unaware of the 2018 rescheduling which made medical cannabis legal in the UK.

Despite being legal in the UK for almost two years, access to medical cannabis and awareness among the public remains surprisingly low. So, we decided to put together a simple guide of how access to medical cannabis currently works.

Legalising Medical Cannabis

Cannabis was rescheduled (from schedule 1 to schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971) in 2018 to allow for the medical application of the drug. This major decision was largely influenced by the high-profile cases of two children who suffer from rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy.

The parents of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had tried a number of registered epilepsy medications with little success until they discovered the positive effects of cannabis-based medications. However, the legality of these drugs in the UK meant that they had to source medications from abroad.

The rescheduling of cannabis allowed for specialist clinicians in the UK to prescribe medical cannabis products. Following this decision, medical cannabis is now legal for the first time in almost 50 years.

Accessing Medical Cannabis

Despite the rescheduling of cannabis, access to medical cannabis through the NHS remains practically non-existent. Many critics of the current guidelines believe that this is largely down to the restrictive recommendations made by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence in November 2019.

In theory, patients should now be able to access medical cannabis products for a small number of conditions. These include treatment-resistant epilepsy, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. However, NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis products – even for these conditions – remain critically low, if not non-existent.

Medical cannabis clinics, however, have been opening around the nation with the aim of plugging the gaps in patient access. Sapphire Medical Clinics has launched a number of schemes and initiatives over the last couple of years in an effort to aid in the progression of the UK’s medical cannabis sector. These include the Sapphire Foundation which helps to remove financial barriers to patients and the UK Medical Cannabis Registry which collects real-world evidence on medical cannabis prescribing.

Progressing Medical Cannabis Access in the UK

The data collected through our ongoing Canex poll support calls for increased education on medical cannabis – for both medical professionals and the public – in the UK. Despite numerous countries, including the UK, having now legalised medical cannabis, the potential mechanisms of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system is still not taught in medical curriculums.

This has led to a limited number of doctors having sufficient knowledge of medical cannabis and how it could potentially benefit a huge array of conditions. A number of initiatives are now aiming to address this problem, including the Sapphire Institute which provides an online training and up-to-date research on medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis registries like the UK Medical Cannabis Registry and Drug Science’s Project Twenty21, aim to collect the evidence needed to support the progression of medical cannabis prescriptions in the UK.

A Canex poll has fond that almost half (46%) of people in the UK are unaware that medical cannabis is now legal.