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Penalties for Possession of Drugs

Illegal drugs penalties in United Kingdom are severe. Taking, carrying, making, or selling drugs (or psychoactive substances such as laughing gas) can result in a fine or a prison sentence.

The information in this section explains the different types of drugs and what happens if you get caught taking or dealing drugs.

Being Charged with Possessing Drugs

Drug substances DO NOT need to be yours to be charged with possessing an illegal substance. The maximum penalties for getting caught with drugs depends on:

  • The class (drug type) and the quantity you get caught with.
  • Where you were when the police found the drug substances.
  • Whether you have a personal history in illegal activities (e.g. previous drug offences or previous criminal offences).
  • Whether the case involves other aggravating or mitigating factors.

Note: The powers of police allow them to inform the parents, guardians, or carers of someone under eighteen (18) years old if they get caught with drugs.

Penalties for Cannabis Possession

As a rule, being caught with cannabis means the police can choose between issuing a warning or charging an on-the-spot fine of £90.

Penalties for Being Found with Khat

Being found with khat (qat) means the police can either issue a warning or they can hand out an on-the-spot fine of £60 (for the first two offences).

If you get caught in possession of khat more than twice, the maximum penalty for committing similar offences can increase to:

  • An unlimited fine.
  • A prison sentence (up to two years).
  • A prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

Being Caught Dealing or Supplying Drugs

In most cases, supplying drugs (includes sharing) or dealing in drugs will mean the penalties for doing so become more severe.

The police can charge you if they suspect that you are supplying drugs. The quantity of drugs that they find, and whether you already have a criminal record, will have some affect on the penalties handed out.

Note: You can get honest information about drugs on the FRANK website. The site explains everything you need to know about drugs, what effect they have, and drugs penalties laws.

Drug Classification Penalties

The drug classification chart shows the penalties for drug possession, for production, and supply (dealing).

If you take, carry, make, or sell drugs, the maximum penalties also depend on the drug class (e.g. type) and the amount you get caught with.

Classification Type of Drug Penalties for Possession Supply and Production Penalty
Class A Drugs Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth) An unlimited fine, up to seven (7) years in prison
(or both)
An unlimited fine, up to life in prison
(or both)
Class B Drugs Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (e.g. mephedrone, methoxetamine) An unlimited fine, up to five (5) years in prison
(or both)
An unlimited fine, up to fourteen (14) years in prison
(or both)
Class C Drugs Anabolic steroids*, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines (BZP), khat An unlimited fine, up to two (2) years in prison
(or both)
An unlimited fine, up to fourteen (14) years in prison
(or both)
*Temporary Classification 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 No penalties.
But, the police can take away a suspected temporary class drug
An unlimited fine, up to fourteen (14) years in prison
(or both)

Note: *Possessing anabolic steroids for personal use is not an offence (per se). The government in United Kingdom can use a ‘temporary banning order’ to ban new drugs for a period of one (1) year. The purpose of doing so is to allow them more time in determining how to classify the drugs.

Psychoactive Substances Penalties

Some people use psychoactive substances for their mood and perception altering effects. In fact, some of the substances have accepted uses in medicine and in psychiatry.

The chart shows the penalties you can get if you take, carry, make, or sell psychoactive substances (e.g. cocaine, laughing gas).

Psychoactive Substance Penalties for Possession Supply and Production Penalties
Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others No penalties (unless you get caught inside a prison) An unlimited fine, up to seven (7) years in prison (or both)

How Courts Work Out Sentences

The exact sentence for a guilty offender will depend on several factors. As a rule, it depends on the type of crime committed, its seriousness, and the circumstances surrounding it.

When the judge or magistrate decides on the sentence length, and any conditions attached to it, they also consider the age of the offender and:

  • The seriousness of the crime.
  • Whether they already have a criminal record.
  • Whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty.

Aggravating or Mitigating Circumstances

Something that makes a crime more serious would be an aggravating circumstance. A typical example could be burgling the house of someone while they are asleep in a bedroom.

Something that may reduce a sentence would be a mitigating circumstance. A typical example could be having personal problems that affected the way that the person behaves.

Note: In some cases, sentences can depend on how any ‘aggravating’ or ‘mitigating’ circumstances affect the outcome.

Sentencing Guidelines in England and Wales

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales promotes greater consistency in sentencing by judges and magistrates. They also use guidelines from the Court of Appeal when deciding what sentences to hand out to guilty offenders.


Police Stop and Search Powers

What are police powers to stop and search? UK police officers have the legal authority to stop and question you at any time. The page explains your rights on the police powers of search and questioning.

Being Arrested: Your Rights

If you have been arrested what are your rights and what happens? UK police must follow strict rules if you are being arrested or getting questioned.

Being Charged with a Crime

What happens after being charged with crime? The help guide explains police procedure if you get charged with a crime in the United Kingdom.

Illegal Drugs Penalties in the United Kingdom