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Drugs and crime

You may think that the police will only arrest someone who's caught dealing drugs, but even using drugs could land you a large fine or worse. Find out more about the laws on drugs and drug use.

How drugs are classified

All drugs are put into one of three categories based on how dangerous they are.

Class A drugs are drugs that have the most harmful effects. These drugs include heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD.

Class B drugs are drugs that are less dangerous than Class A ones, but they can still be harmful. Class B drugs include cannabis and some amphetamines.

Class C drugs are less dangerous to the user than Class A and Class B drugs. However, they are still classed as illegal and can be harmful. Class C drugs include ketamine, GHB and some tranquilisers.

Snapshot of drug use in the UK

The UK illegal drug market is thought to be worth between 4 billion and 6.6 billion:

  • class A drug use creates around 15.4 billion in crime and health costs each year
  • 99 per cent of that is caused by problematic drug use, usually involving heroin or crack cocaine
  • between a third and a half of robberies, burglaries and other thefts relate to drug use

Penalties for drug crimes

If you're caught with drugs in your bag or in your pocket, you may be charged with possessing an illegal substance, whether it's yours or not.

If you have been found in possession of drugs, the punishment that you receive will depend on the type of drug that the police found and your personal history.

If you were found with a Class C drug and you do not have a criminal history, you will get a formal warning or a police caution at the very least. If you're found with a Class A or B drug, or if you have a history of drug offences, you're likely to face a much tougher punishment.

If you're under 17, the police are allowed to tell your parent or carer that you've been caught.

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

These sentences can increase a lot more if you are found to be dealing in drugs or supplying them - even if it's just to friends or if no money changed hands.

If you are caught in possession of cannabis, the police may:

  • give you a warning for a first offence of possession
  • give you a penalty notice for disorder (an on-the-spot fine of 80) for a second offence
  • arrest you if it is the third time you have been caught with cannabis; this could lead to conviction and a criminal record
  • confiscate the drug

Punishments for supplying drugs are a lot tougher than those for possession. Supplying drugs doesn't just apply to dealers. If the police think you intended to share drugs with your friends, that is still considered to be supplying.

The police are more likely to charge you if they suspect you intended to supply drugs, but will still take into account the amount of drugs that you had and your criminal record.

The maximum sentences for intent to supply drugs are:

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

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