Most drug offences are governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. After an international agreement was made in 1961 to combat the widespread use of and trade in drugs, the UK reinforced and consolidated its commitments by passing the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Act lists a number of drug offences and provides a framework for the regulation of drugs in general. The law has become, however, extremely complex and multi-faceted as time has passed and numerous cases prosecuted.
Possession of a controlled drug (s. 5) – Sometimes known as “Simple possession”. Possession does not mean ownership; it requires merely knowledge and control.
Possession of a controlled drug with the intent to supply to another (s. 5). This can include a person who is themselves lawfully in possession of the drug such as prescribed methadone. (Offences under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2015 usually apply to supplying rather than simple possession but that is an offence if committed in a prison).
The import and export of a controlled drug (prohibited under section 3 and prosecuted under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979).
The production of a controlled drug (s. 4).
Being concerned in the production of a controlled drug (s. 4).
Supplying a controlled drug to another (s. 4). In its ordinary meaning, i.e. to provide or distribute, regardless of whether money, goods, or other payment is transferred. It is an offence to supply or to offer to supply a controlled drug to another – even if the substance itself is not a controlled drug, for example by offering to supply cannabis which turns out to be oregano. Supply does not mean sell – simply handing it to someone else will suffice.
Offering to supply a controlled drug to another (s. 4). An offer, by words or conduct, to supply a controlled drug to another; it is irrelevant whether or not the controlled drug is actually supplied.
Being concerned in the supply or offer of a controlled drug to another (s. 4). That the defendant was involved in an enterprise to achieve a relevant offence, and acted in the knowledge that the enterprise concerned drugs; for these purposes, it is irrelevant whether the offence was ultimately achieved (e.g. being concerned in the supply of drugs does not require the drugs to have actually been supplied).
Cultivating a plant of the genus Cannabis (s. 6). Cultivating is growing or tending to any live plant.
In addition there have been cases where people have been found to be in possession of things like herbs or talcum powder but where it is obvious they intend to trick prospective purchasers into believing that the material is cannabis, cocaine or whatever – in that case they may even be prosecuted for an offence under the Fraud Act 2006.
The law has developed over the years in relation to driving offences where drugs are involved. It has long been an offence to drive whilst unfit through drugs; there is case-law which extends this offence to the situation where the unfitness was caused by a failure to take medication (insulin in particular).
Since 2013 it has been an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle where the proportion of the drug in [the defendant’s] blood or urine exceeds the specified limit for that drug.
There is a specific list of – currently - 17 drugs to which this applies which includes cocaine, ketamine and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. (The reason for the latter being expressed in that way is because the body metabolises cannabis into that substance.)
At present the requirement to prove the level of drug will necessitate a blood or urine sample which has to be analysed (a failure or refusal to provide a sample can itself be an offence) but technology develops fast and it may be in the not-too-distant future that a device will be introduced similar to the ‘evidential breath machine’ which can measure the level at a police station for immediate results.
Which Court deals with drug offences
All drug offences are triable either way. This means that a drug offence case can have its trial, and sentence hearing, either in the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court. Where it will ultimately be heard will depend on the complexity, severity, and likely sentence, of each case.
Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.