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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Drugs and crime

It’s not just drug dealers who will be arrested if they get caught in the act. Carrying drugs for personal use can land you a large fine or time in prison too. It’s a good idea to understand the laws surrounding drug classifications, possession and intent to supply.

How drugs are classified

All drugs are put into one of three categories, according to how dangerous they are. It’s worth remembering that different drugs affect people in different ways. Just because a drug is not ‘Class A’, it can still be very dangerous.

The three categories of drugs are Class A, Class B and Class C.

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

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

Class C drugs are considered less dangerous to the user than Class A and Class B drugs but they are still illegal. These include ketamine, GHB and some tranquilisers.

Possessing drugs

If you're caught with drugs in your pockets or in your bag, you can be charged with possession, even if it’s not yours. If you’re under 17, the police can tell your parent or guardian.

The punishment for drug possession depends on the type of drug that you were carrying and whether you’ve been in trouble with the police before.

If you were carrying a Class C drug and you don't have a criminal history, you'll probably receive a formal warning or a police caution. If you're found with Class A or B drugs, or if you have a history of drug offences, you're likely to face a tougher punishment.

The maximum sentences for carrying 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

Even if you only deal drugs to friends or don't exchange any money, these sentences are likely to increase heavily.

Possessing cannabis

Cannabis is now classified as a Class B drug. If you are caught carrying some, police will confiscate it and you may be arrested, even if it’s your first time. What the police will do depends on the circumstances and how old you are.

Over 18s

If you are over 18 and caught in possession of cannabis, the police are likely to:

  • give you a cannabis 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 a conviction and a criminal record

Aged 10 - 17

If you're between ten and seventeen and caught in possession of cannabis, the police will confiscate the drug and may arrest you. They may also refer you to a Youth Offending Team (YOT) and are likely to:

  • give you a reprimand and tell your parents what has happened if it is the first time you’ve been caught
  • give you a final warning and refer you to a YOT if it's your second offence
  • arrest you if it is the third time you have been caught with cannabis, which could lead to a conviction and a criminal record

Possessing mephedrone

Mephedrone, or meow meow, used to be legal to buy in the UK over the internet.

Following the deaths of several teenagers who had been taking the drug, mephedrone (and related cathinone substances) has now been classified as a Class B drug. This means it is illegal to sell, buy or possess. Importing mephedrone into the UK has also been banned.

Intent to supply and dealing

If you are found to be supplying or dealing drugs, the punishment is likely to be tough. Supplying drugs doesn’t just apply to dealers. If police think you're going to share drugs with your friends, this is still considered to be supplying.

Being suspected of supplying drugs means you are much more likely to be charged. The amount of drugs found on you, and whether you have a criminal record, will be taken into account when a punishment is being decided.

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

Restrictions on other substances

There are also restrictions on the sale of certain legal substances which can be harmful if misused. Such as:

  • it's against the law for a shop to sell solvents, cigarette lighter refills and certain glues to under 18s if they believe that you'll use them as a drug
  • if you're under 18, you will not be allowed to buy alcohol, cigarettes, cigars or tobacco

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