Drugs and The Law

COCAINE ELEPHANTWell, what can we say other than “It’s complicated!”  Successive governments have tinkered around the edges with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 ever since it was written, even if it still provides the main guidance.

We’ve stated the various categories of drugs and information on charging and expected sentences at the end of this section.

But let’s look at the practical side first . . .

Some Big Don’ts!
Don’t carry your stash of drugs with you unnecessarily, or keep them in your car however small the amount.  Don’t carry any paraphernalia as it can mark your card if you’re stopped and searched.  A set of scales and no drugs? I’d expect a “home visit!”

Don’t use in a public place; you may not think you’ve been seen but just don’t chance it.

Don’t walk about in public if your very drunk or really stone; apart from having a big sign with “arrest me” pointing at you, you’re in danger of having a serious accident. Cars can hurt!

Don’t sell drugs to mates (or anyone else for that matter). Selling or even giving drugs to someone, however small the amount can be taken as “dealing” which attracts considerably higher punishment if you are caught. The “I was only helping a mate out” defence never works!

Just carrying drugs for a friend? Beware! It can be taken as supplying so think it through.

Don’t think UK drug laws apply to you when abroad – they don’t! In most countries the penalties for the possession of drugs are considerably harsher. Get caught and you’re loved ones may not see you for a long, long time. At least find out the risks before travelling.

It’s also worth remembering that in some countries drinking alcohol is frowned upon. Although allowances tend to me made for tourists, it’s worth using your common sense and drinking only in the bars and hotels that cater for such things.

Also on travelling, it’s worth bearing in mind that although the same laws and attitudes should apply across the UK, in reality this is not the case. In some parts of the country police are more likely to charge you than give you a caution, and sentencing can vary widely from place to place, so you could end up with a custodial rather than a caution for just being in the wrong part of the country.

Don’t drive when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However capable you may feel you are probably not and if caught it’s going to hurt your pocket at the very least.  If you cause an accident or injure or kill someone you are in deep trouble.

It is also worth remembering that the old days have gone and the police can test you to see if you are under the influence of drugs if you are behind the wheel of a car. Just because you can pass a breathalyser test does not make you safe – not any more.

Stopped and Searched?
If you are of a certain age, or perhaps ethnicity, particularly in certain parts of this country there’s a fair chance you’ll get stopped and searched by the police.

The police have the powers to stop and question you at any time and they can search you depending on the circumstance for which you are stopped (and reasonable suspicion is often hard to challenge).

PCSO’s must be in uniform, but a police officer need not be, although they must show you their warrant card.
Before you’re searched the officer has to tell you the following:
Their name and police station to which they are attached.
What they expect to find, the obvious example being drugs.
The reason they want to search you. For example, it looks like you are hiding something, or are loitering with intent to commit a crime.

They should explain why they are legally allowed to search you.

They should also explain that you can have a record of the search, either at that time or, if not, how to get a copy later.
So a bit of advice here; you don’t need to say anything or answer questions, but the police may just cart you off to the Station if you refuse to speak. Your best bet is to answer questions in a calm fashion, and if they want to search you, let them. Trying to stop a police officer from searching you is liable to result in your getting arrested and you’ll be searched anyway. Losing your rag is seriously not a good idea! Stay cool!
OK? You’re clean, then walk away. However if your carrying, read on.

Cautions and Penalty Notices.
For certain minor offences the police can issue a caution.

Cautions: These are verbal warnings, but only after you’ve admitted the crime, these can be conditional cautions which may say that you attend the drug and alcohol services for treatment.

If you fail to attend, the police may arrest and charge you with the crime (which, remember, you’ve already admitted to, in order to be cautioned!)

A caution is not a criminal conviction, however if later your up in court for another crime, it can be used as evidence of character, the bad sort of course!

Penalty notices:  The police can issue these for offences like Shoplifting, Possessing a small amount of Cannabis, and being Drunk and Disorderly in public.

You’re asked to sign the notice, and signing means you’re admitting the offence and agree to pay the fine.
If you don’t agree you have the right to ask for a trial.
If you’re skint and can’t pay at that time then sweet-talk them into paying by instalments, but do try and pay them!  Every so often the police decide to track down all the local fine evaders one (early) morning and might well be woken up by having the front door removed from its hinges.

 This looks as if it’s going badly here. What to do if you’re arrested.

Firstly, if arrested, don’t comment until a solicitor is present this is the golden rule. When first arrested and taken to the Station you have the right to a phone call, so ring a solicitor, or get a friend to get hold of one. If you can’t arrange either don’t worry the “Duty Solicitor” will be available, and he’s free of charge, and you can always change to your own solicitor later.

Tell the solicitor your version of the events and they will advise you accordingly of the options you have.

If you’re charged with “possession with intent” (to supply) ask your solicitor if they’d prepare an “Expert Report”. This report will be used by your defence if it goes to court and will be the basis of your evidence.

Depending on the circumstances your solicitor may also advise you to plead guilty to a lesser offence, and looking at the difference in sentences for supply compared with just possession, this may be a smart move.

So how much did you say I was caught with?
One of the oldest jokes in the world is about the police valuation of your stash, dealers used to say they’d give their right arm to get those prices!

You can get your solicitor to check both the quantity and the value of the drugs they are going to charge you with possessing or supplying. This is wise advice if it looks if you’re going to go to trial. Juries tend not to relate to the amount you have, but the value is another matter, so get it down!

We’re not going to go into the ins and outs of sentencing………firstly it’s complicated, and there are so many variables….but in general what you’ll get will depend on the following:

  • Is it a first offence or are you a repeat offender?
  • The Class and type of drug you were arrested with.
  • The quantity of drugs you were arrested with.
  • Were you supplying or selling for a profit?
  • If you were dealing to under 18 year olds

This is quite apart from where in the country your trial is, as we’ve said before it varies, and of course lastly (but not least) the personal values and mood of the Judge and Jury. Unlucky is the person whose trial is after a lurid anti -drug campaign in the Daily Mail!

Drug Classes and maximum penalties (Dec 2013)
The maximum penalties for drug possession, supply (dealing) and production depend on what type or ‘class’ the drug is.

Class

Drug

Possession

Supply and production

A Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth) Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both
B Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (e.g. Mephedrone, Methoxetamine) Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
C Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), ketamine, piperazines (BZP) Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Temporary class drugs* NBOMe and Benzofuran compounds None, but police can take away 
a suspected temporary class drug Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

*The government can ban new drugs for 1 year under a ‘temporary banning order’ while they decide how the drugs should be classified.
Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if you’re found with cannabis.
Note- The above is accurate as at December 2013, but not exhaustive. If you require more detailed info a good place to start is the DrugScope website.