united kingdom cannabis laws

Drugs penalties

You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:

  • take drugs
  • carry drugs
  • make drugs
  • sell, deal or share drugs (also called ‘supplying’ them)

The penalties depend on the type of drug or substance, the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing it.

Types of drugs

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

Drug Possession Supply and production
Class 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
Class B Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (for example mephedrone, methoxetamine) Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Class C Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB ), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL ), piperazines (BZP ), khat Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both (except anabolic steroids – it’s not an offence to possess them for personal use) Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Temporary class drugs* 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 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.

Psychoactive substances penalties

Psychoactive substances include things like nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’).

You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:

  • carry a psychoactive substance and you intend to supply it
  • make a psychoactive substance
  • sell, deal or share a psychoactive substance (also called supplying them)
Psychoactive substances Possession Supply and production
Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others None, unless you’re in prison Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Food, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, medicine and the types of drugs listed above do not count as psychoactive substances.

Possessing drugs

You may be charged with possessing an illegal substance if you’re caught with drugs, whether they’re yours or not.

If you’re under 18, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you’ve been caught with drugs.

Your penalty will depend on:

  • the class and quantity of drug
  • where you and the drugs were found
  • your personal history (previous crimes, including any previous drug offences)
  • other aggravating or mitigating factors


Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if you’re found with cannabis.

Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £60 on the first 2 times that you’re found with khat. If you’re found with khat more than twice, you could get a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Dealing or supplying drugs

The penalty is likely to be more severe if you are found to be supplying drugs (dealing, selling or sharing).

The police will probably charge you if they suspect you of supplying drugs. The amount of drugs found and whether you have a criminal record will affect your penalty.

More information

Talk to FRANK has help, information and advice about drugs.

The penalties if you are caught taking or dealing drugs – drug classification, fines and prison sentences

Cannabis Legalisation: Where is Medicinal Cannabis Legal in the World?

By Roland Sebestyén

Despite the growing medicinal use of cannabis throughout the world, there are still more than a hundred countries where medicinal cannabis is illegal. However, the reason for the continued prohibition varies from country to country.

Cannabis, as an alternative treatment, is extremely popular among people who feel medication is either insufficient, dangerous or too expensive. Patients can consume medicinal cannabis in various methods including capsules, dermal patches, oral or dermal sprays, cannabis edibles, vaporising, or smoking dried flowers.

Despite growing liberalisation around medical cannabis, misconceptions still remain in many parts of the world. These misconceptions are based particularly on the plant’s association with ‘weed’ or ‘marijuana’, known for their recreational use for producing a ‘high’.

The truth is “cannabis refers to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties, known as Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis.” There are many different strains of these plants, containing varying ratios of compounds known as cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in all strains of the cannabis plant. The most common of these compounds are THC – known for its psychoactive properties – and CBD, which is gaining increasing attention throughout the world for its potential wellness and therapeutic properties.

The change is on its way

We found almost 150 countries where there are strict rules and prohibition laws in force when it comes to the medicinal use of cannabis.

(Even European countries have differing views around medical cannabis. Map: Canex)

As you can see, even some leading, progressive Western countries (for example, Sweden and Iceland) are against legalisation.

The United Kingdom is under the legal with conditions label as limited use has been approved since 2018. In France, on the other hand, the medical use of some cannabinoid-based drugs has been legal since 2013.

It is worth noting that the stance on this issue is not clear in the European Union either. Most members are about to take the next step or have already legalised medicinal cannabis. However, some parts of the trade block are not showing much of an interest in following the flow.

Canex talked to Dr Mikael Sodergren, the Managing Director of Sapphire Medical Clinics, who told us that “the reason medical cannabis is illegal in many countries is multifactorial.”

He continued:

“It is related to the local political landscape, the legal position of recreational cannabis and the fact that medical research has been slow and difficult due to these factors up until recently.”

“Countries that consider medical cannabis illegal have simply not made a distinction between medical indications and evaluated the now definitive evidence base in support of treating certain conditions such as epilepsy.

“I think that will change relatively quickly globally over the next few years.”

The future

Either way, the CBD and Hemp industry is already flourishing, and dealing with CBD becoming a global business.

Patients and athletes use it for its potential anti-inflammatory, wellness, and therapeutic effects. CBD has become popular among many people who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, sleep disorders, arthritis, and epilepsy, among many more.

Finally – although continued research is essential – according to the preliminary evidence, cannabis can actually be a decisive factor when treating some of the life-threatening diseases or mitigating side effects of medical treatments.

Countries that say no to research and trial might miss out on a huge opportunity. And in the end, the patients will pay the ultimate price.

Despite the growing medicinal use of cannabis throughout the world, medical cannabis remains illegal in over 150 countries.