Drug penalties

where you stand - officially and unofficially

by Paul Almond

There are three main crimes associated with drugs under UK law: possession, possession with intent to supply, and supply. The definition and penalties for each penalties are gray areas, up for interpretation by the police and the courts.

possession

Basically, whatever the drug, if you get caught with a small amount, you'll be charged with possession. If it's your first offense, you're going to get off with an automatic caution. Like a conviction, a caution stays on your record forever, although it becomes 'spent' after about six or seven years. This means that a court cannot take it into account.


intent to supply

It doesn't take much to be suspected of possession with intent to supply. Passing drugs to your friends even for no money is considered supply.

We spoke to a detective sergeant on a local district drugs unit in the north of England, who gave us a rough guide as to the amounts that would be sufficient to suspect possession with intent:


 
amphetamines
  "a couple of grams"
 
cannabis
  "a couple of ounces"
 
cocaine
  "a small quantity - one gram"
 
ecstasy
  "more than two pills"
 
heroin
  "1/16th oz"
 
LSD
  "a couple of tabs"
 
magic mushrooms
  "don't think we'd really bother"


drug by drug



amphetamines

CLASS
B
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
2 grams
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
14 years or a fine (or both)
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
5 years or a fine (or both)
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
10 months with £93 fine
CAUTIONED
3,647
FOUND GUILTY
9,221
IMPRISONED
1,290

(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

our comments:
Amphetamines are used medically as an appetite suppressant and are available on prescription only.

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cannabis

CLASS
B
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
2 oz
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
14 years or a fine (or both)
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
5 years or a fine (or both)
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
10 months and £87 fine
CAUTIONED
48,480
FOUND GUILTY
40,119
IMPRISONED
2,832

(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

our comments the most popular recreational drug in the UK gets over 40,000 more arrests than all the other drugs put together. This is because it is so widely used and a lot of people think it should be legalized. "People are cheeky about it," said one police officer. "It's a much more open drug."

The police are ambivalent about bringing someone in for a first-time possession offense for cannabis: on one hand, it's regarded as a waste of time; on the other hand, it can be constructive: either as a leverage for information or a deterrent for a repeat offense.

Recently, the Metropolitan police have been testing a policy of "on the spot warnings" and confiscating rather than cautioning or prosecution. "It takes two officers five hours to process a single caution," said a Scotland Yard police spokesperson. "What's the point...when magistrates only fine users £10 to £20?"

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cocaine

CLASS
A
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
1 gram
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
life and an unlimited fine
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
7 years and an unlimited fine
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
3 years 3 months and £167
fine
CAUTIONED
819
FOUND GUILTY
2,642
IMPRISONED
411

(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

our comments the police are hard on cocaine. One drugs unit police officer we spoke to told us that a quantity in the region of one gram would be sufficient grounds to suspect possession with intent to supply.

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ecstasy

CLASS
A
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
3 pills
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
life and an unlimited fine
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
7 years and an unlimited fine
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
2 years 2 months and £173
fine
CAUTIONED
911
FOUND GUILTY
1,461
IMPRISONED
238

(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

our comments whether you are charged with intent to supply or possession depends largely on whether the police believe you to be a dealer or not. Luck plays a large part: if you are arrested carrying two or three pills, it's unlikely you'd be charged with intent to supply, unless there was other evidence or previous convictions

In two recent cases, a young man was caught with 10 E pills and 20 tabs of acid, and received a sentence of three and a half years for intent to supply. Another man was stopped with 50 E pills, and walked free on possession charges.

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heroin

CLASS
A
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
1/16th oz
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
life and an unlimited fine
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
7 years and an unlimited fine
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
2 years and £129 fine
CAUTIONED
1,843
FOUND GUILTY
7,583
IMPRISONED
1,534

(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

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ketamine

Ketamine is not a controlled substance, but can only be obtained by prescription. However, you could be prosecuted under the Medicines Act for supply without a license.

There are no figures available.


our comments:
there have been calls to make Ketamine a controlled substance under the Misuse Of Drugs Act but there is a lack of enthusiasm, partly down to political disinterest and partly Ketamine's broad use in hospitals and animal surgeries.

Also, there is yet to be a Ketamine death (and probably won't be thanks to the drug's wide safety margin). See our guide to Ketamine for more details.

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magic mushrooms

Mushrooms are legal as long as they are fresh and unprocessed. You cannot be arrested or prosecuted for possessing freshly picked or cultivated mushrooms. However, drying or powdering or preparing them in any way for consumption turns them into a Class A drug (with the usual penalties).

our comments: We spoke to a detective sergeant on a local district drugs unit in the north of England, who said, "I don't think we'd really bother," if they caught someone in possession of a gram of magic mushrooms powder.


(source: UK Home Office, 1998)

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LSD

CLASS
A
AMOUNT CONSIDERED 'SUPPLY'
3 tabs
MAX PUNISHMENT (supply)
life and an unlimited fine
MAX PUNISHMENT (possession)
7 years and an unlimited fine
AVERAGE PUNISHMENT (in reality)
1 year 8 months and £148
fine
CAUTIONED
92
FOUND GUILTY
385
IMPRISONED
72
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