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UK Drug Laws: Be in the know

This article appeared in the November 2010 edition of Chic Lifestyle magazine.

current UK drugs laws

The current state of the laws on drugs offences

The manner in which we as a country deal with drugs offences is never far from the headlines. The debate on the decriminalisation of drugs is raging once again in the midst of the government’s need to cut the budget deficit. The argument is two fold; firstly, that the current laws don’t work in reducing drug usage and the problems that go along with it such as crime and HIV. Secondly, that incarcerating drug users is more expensive that treating them and trying to get them to stop using drugs in the long term. Recidivism is also said to be lower with people who undergo treatment compared to those who are locked up.

The Portuguese experiment

Many also cite the results of the experiment carried out by the Portuguese government, who in 2001 decriminalised the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other illegal drugs, opting instead of prison to offer therapy to drug users. In 2006 a report was published which showed that the number of deaths from illegal drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006.

Whilst no one expects the UK government to opt for such a radical approach to drug policy, some are suggesting that decriminalisation of some drugs may be the way forward.

So what is the current state of drugs laws in the UK?

Classification of drugs

Drugs are classified into three separate categories by the government:

Class A

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • LSD
  • Magic Mushrooms
  • Amphetamines (if prepared for Injection)

Class B

  • Amphetamines
  • Cannabis

Class C

  • Tranquilisers
  • Ketamine
  • Diazepam (unless prescribed by a Doctor)

Penalties for Possession or Supply of drugs

Dealing or supplying drugs attracts stiffer penalties than using drugs, and these vary according to the classification of the drug involved.

Class A drugs

Possession: Up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both

Supply (dealing): Up to life in prison or an unlimited fine, or both

Class B drugs

Possession: Up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both

Supply (dealing): Up to 14 years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both

Class C drugs

Possession: Up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both

Supply (dealing): Up to 14 years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both.

To enforce this law the police have special powers to stop, detain and search people on ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they are in possession of a controlled drug.

The above penalties are given in a Crown Court. In a Magistrates Court, where less serious offences are dealt with, the maximum sentence is six months imprisonment and a £5000 fine. The actual sentence you're likely to get will also depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The drug involved;
  • Any previous criminal record;
  • Your personal circumstances (i.e. being a single parent);

One of the most common Drugs for people to come into contact with is Cannabis. It should be noted that although in 2004 Cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C Drug, in 2008 the Government re-classified it to Class B. Any offences involving Cannabis therefore attract the sentence of a Class B Drug, which can be considerably harsher than that of Class C.

Drug testing on arrest

If you're arrested and taken to a police station, you may be tested to find out if you've taken any Class A drugs. You may be tested if you've been arrested for a 'trigger offence'. Trigger offences include street robbery, burglary, car theft, handling stolen goods or supplying drugs.

A person cannot be forced to provide a sample for testing, but it is an offence to refuse to provide a sample without good cause.

If you test positive for Class A drugs, you'll be required to attend a compulsory drug assessment by specialist drugs workers. The assessment will determine the extent of your drug problem and help you into treatment and other support, even if you're not charged with an offence. Failing to attend for the follow up assessment is also an offence.

Cultivation of Cannabis

In respect of Cannabis, there is another offence known as Cultivation of Cannabis. It is an offence for anyone to grow any form of Cannabis plant, unless they have a license for Industrial production. This Offence carries a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both.

Other offences also exist such as Producing Drugs and Allowing Premises to be used for the use, supply or production of drugs.

If you, or someone you know, have a problem with drug use, there are several agencies that can offer help and advice. You can speak to your GP who will be able to direct you to a specialist centre. Most local probation offices will have a list of referral agencies. In Sheffield contact  www.kickstartsheffield.org 

If you have been arrested or charged with any form of drug related crime, contact David Staniforth at Norrie Waite & Slater solicitors on 0114 2765015 or visit www.norriewaite.co.uk

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