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The need to continually update drug policy has made it a particularly volatile area of the criminal law. The purpose of drug-related crimes is to prevent drug abuse. Drugs are therefore categorised according to the degree of harm likely to be caused by their use, and the higher the category, the greater the penalty for the drug-related crime. Being found in possession of a controlled drug in any of these given categories can have significant consequences, and may involve either a period of imprisonment or a fine, or a combination of the two.

Here we provide an overview of the law regarding drugs: its sourcing, possession and supply to others.

How are drugs classified?

The most important piece of legislation that is relevant to drug crimes in England and Wales is The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This Act deals exclusively with what are known as ‘controlled’ drugs, which are those which are deemed too dangerous to the general public to be left unregulated. The Act divides Drugs into three different categories:

  • Class A Drugs: these are regarded as the most dangerous of drugs and includes cocaine, heroin, crystal meth and ecstacy. It is important to be aware that any Class B drug that is injected, will be deemed as a Class A drug.
  • Class B Drugs: this classification covers, amongst others, cannabis, ketamine and amphetamine. New drugs deemed harmful that are classified and criminalised by a Temporary Class Drug Order also fall within Class B.
  • Class C Drugs: this category includes mild tranquilisers and anabolic steroids.

What are the crimes?

The Misuse of Drugs Act details a series of crimes that are centred around the different categories of drugs. These include:

  1. Possession of a controlled drug;
  2. Possession with intent to supply another person;
  3. Production, cultivation or manufacture of controlled drugs;
  4. Supplying another person with a controlled drug;
  5. Offering to supply another person with a controlled drug;
  6. Import or export of controlled drugs; and
  7. Allowing premises you occupy or manage to be used for the consumption of controlled drugs or the supply or production of controlled drugs.

For the most part, it will be for prosecuting authorities –the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police –to prove the accused is guilty of the relevant offence.

The law takes a very dim view of anyone that allows premises they own or manage to be used in connection with controlled drugs. If your premises are being used by squatters to commit drug related crimes, you will still be liable for the offence. You will be held responsible for what happens with your property. The important point to note is that as a matter of law, it must be proven that you had knowledge that your property was being used in connection with controlled drugs. Choosing to ignore evidence that your properties are being used in connection with controlled drugs will not be treated favourably by the courts or prosecuting authorities.

What are the penalties?

The penalties concerning drug crimes will ultimately depend on the class of the drug in question and the nature of the offence charged.

Class A drugs are deemed the most dangerous, and so any crime that involves them will likely be more severe than that involving a drug of a lesser classification. However, the penalty that is likely to be administered will also depend on the nature of the crime: there are more serious penalties for supplying or attempting to supply a controlled drug than there are for possession.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the penalties for crimes are currently as follows:

Drug Classification




7 years imprisonment and a fine

Life imprisonment and a fine


5 years imprisonment and a fine

14 years imprisonment and a fine


2 years imprisonment and a fine

14 years imprisonment and a fine

Are there any exceptions?

Generally there are no exceptions to being found in possession or supplying controlled drugs. The law is very stringent and leaves very little room for manoeuvre or interpretation.

It is not uncommon that people are confused as to whether or not certain drugs can be used for medical treatment, particularly around the use or supplying of cannabis (a Class B drug). While there are some arguments to support its medicinal use, under the law in England & Wales it is illegal to attempt to use any controlled drug, including cannabis, as medication.

There are many drugs that can be used as medication, but these are strictly regulated under the Medicines Act 1968 and are classified differently.

Drug crime is very heavily regulated and policed in England & Wales. The authorities have a number of powers that allow them to conduct investigations if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that someone is in possession of, or are engaging in the supply of, controlled drugs.

Drug-related Offences - Criminal Defence Lawyers

At Lewis Nedas, we have a wealth of experience in advising on drug-related offences. Our specialist criminal lawyers are regularly involved in representing clients in court, and in constructing a robust defence if the need should arise. We will work with you to ensure that you are advised on this area of the law, and will be able to answer any questions that you may have. If you have any concerns, please contact us.

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