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  • Rai Gill

Attending a festival this summer? Your guide to the law and 'Party Drugs'

The term “party drugs” is a common phrase used to refer to those narcotics which are generally taken by, often young, individuals recreationally in a social setting. Typically, this includes festivals and house or club parties.

Despite the name, these drugs, like any drug listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, can be dangerous and possession of them can be illegal. However, the nature of drug-taking in society is such that it is important to nevertheless be aware of the law and policies surrounding the possession and consumption of drugs.

The Drugs

The common “party” drugs that are usually taken and which are identified under the law are:

  1. Cannabis

  2. Cocaine

  3. LSD (acid)

  4. Ketamine

  5. Nitrous oxide

  6. MDMA (ecstasy)

  7. Magic Mushrooms

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, these drugs are then classified according to their dangerousness and the potential harm that they can cause (with A being the most serious, and C the least). The classifications for the above drugs are as follows:

  1. Class A – Cocaine, MDMA, LSD, Magic Mushrooms

  2. Class B – Cannabis, Ketamine

  3. Class C – Nitrous Oxide

The Law

Possession of drugs for personal or recreational use is an offence under section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This means that any person who is found with any of the above drugs on their person, or in their control, is liable to be arrested and prosecuted.

However, police generally do not arrest and charge people at festivals or parties due to the sheer number of people and volume of drugs involved. The police therefore exercise a certain amount of leniency and tolerance, generally in accordance with current trends and social norms. This is a matter of police policy, but not law (for example, this includes the policy of the Durham Constabulary not to prosecute individuals who are in simple possession of cannabis). As such, possession remains a prosecutable and arrestable offence throughout the United Kingdom.

It is also important to be aware that giving your drugs to other people, even if money does not exchange hands, still constitutes the offence of supplying drugs, which is a serious offence carrying a higher penalty than “simple” possession (see other article on drug offences). However, the police are unlikely to pursue such a charge in accordance with current policy.

Policies can change without notice and so it would be unwise to rely solely on this in making decisions if attending festivals this Summer.


If prosecuted and convicted of the offence of possession, the maximum sentence a person may receive is as follows:

  1. Class A – up to 7 years or fine or both

  2. Class B – up to 5 years or fine or both

  3. Class C – up to 2 years or fine or both

However, the actual sentence received will be based on a number of factors, including the quantity of drugs found on the defendant. The above maximum sentences would only be passed in the most severe cases and circumstances.

Where a person is found in a “party” setting with any of the above drugs, it is more usual police policy to seize the contraband and then, instead of prosecuting, give a formal warning or administer a caution. The action of the police will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Party Drugs in Practice - Policy and Protection

The official government line is that it remains an offence to possess the above drugs, but measures are adopted in practice to limit the dangers that are necessarily inherent with the taking of any drug, recreationally or otherwise:

  1. Back-of-house testing – this is where private companies at festivals test drugs that have been confiscated or those that have been disposed of. Any negative findings (e.g. severe impurities, contamination, misidentification) will then be reported throughout the festival for the benefit of others.

  2. Front-of-house testing – these are open testing areas where individuals can have their drugs tested by professionals to ensure that they are relatively (though rarely, if ever, completely) pure, have been sold as advertised, or are dangerously or fatally strong.

  3. First-aid tents – Available to administer any immediate care that may result from overdosing, the taking of impure or dangerously strong substances, bad or negative reaction to drugs (each person will react differently) etc.

  4. Confidential help-centres for advice and guidance – these are “safe spaces” where drug users, potential drug users, or drug-dependent individuals can approach professionals with confidence to discuss their concerns, learn about the dangers of taking drugs, or seek assistance with any recovery.

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.


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