Young people, drugs and crime

Young people, drugs and crime

If you are caught carrying drugs which you intend to use yourself, rather than dealing to other people, you could still face serious punishments including fines and even prison time. The severity of the punishment depends on the type of drug you are carrying and the amount. This article explains the different classifications of drugs and the punishments for possession for personal use, and intent to supply.

Drug classifications

Illegal drugs are divided into three types (or ‘classes’):

  • Class A drugs are the most harmful and include crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and methamphetamine (crystal meth).
  • Class B drugs are not as dangerous as Class A drugs, but they still cause harm. They include amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis and codeine.
  • Class C drugs are less harmful than Class A and Class B drugs, but they are still against the law. They include anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and ketamine.

Drug penalties


If a person is caught with drugs, they can be charged with possession of an illegal substance – whether the drugs belong to them personally or not. However, in most cases, the police are more likely to confiscate the drugs and/or arrest the person in possession of them.

The legal consequences of possessing illegal drugs are dependent, to a large extent, on a number of factors:

  • the class of drugs involved
  • the quantity of drugs involved
  • the type of handling involved – that is, supply (drug dealing) or production
  • the location of the drugs and the person handling them
  • the personal history of the person handling the drugs, including previous (particularly, drug-related) convictions
  • the existence of other factors that make the handling worse (known as ‘aggravating factors’) or factors that lessen the severity of it (‘mitigating factors’).

The maximum penalty for possession of:

  • a Class A drug is up to seven years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both
  • a Class B drug is up to five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both
  • a Class C drug is up to two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

If the person is under the age of 18, the police can inform their parent, guardian or carer that they have been caught in possession of drugs.

If they are caught in possession of cannabis (a Class B drug), the police will confiscate the drug and place the youth under arrest. In addition, the police may make a referral to a Youth Offending Team (YOT) and will likely:

a) reprimand the youth, informing their parents of the arrest (if it is their first offence)

b) issue the youth with a final warning and refer them to a YOT (if it is their second offence)

c) arrest the youth (if it is their third offence).

Supply and production

The police are most likely to charge a person who is suspected of supplying or producing illegal drugs.

The penalties for the supply or production of drugs are more serious than for possession. However, as with possession, the penalties are determined by factors such as the amount of drugs involved and whether or not the person supplying or producing the drugs has a criminal record.

The maximum penalty for the supply or production of:

  • a Class A drug is up to life imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both
  • a Class B or Class C drug is up to 14 years imprisonment, an unlimited 
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