Drugs and the law

Drug misuse has negative effects on both the individuals misusing substances and the community. The Government uses legislation as one tool of controlling drug misuse, as well as acting as a deterrent to others. Drug legislation considers both possession and supply/production and is one tool within a wider approach to tackling drug and alcohol addiction, which also includes education, prevention and treatment.

Northumbria Police are involved in a range of operations and activities with partner agencies to tackle criminal activity involving drugs. The aim is to protect our communities from the impact of drug use by tackling drug supply, drug-related crime and anti-social behaviour.

Here you will find information specifically about drugs law and the most common drug related offences.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is the main legislation covering drugs. It puts legal and illegal drugs into three different categories, known as Class A, B and C. Drugs regulated in this way are known as 'controlled' substances. Class A drugs are those considered to be the most harmful.

Under this law it is an offence to:

  • Possess a controlled substance unlawfully
  • Possess a controlled substance with the intent to supply
  • Unlawfully supply a controlled drug (even when there's no charge made for the drug)
  • Allow premises you occupy or manage to be used for the purpose of drug taking

See below how the most typical drugs are classified:

Class A:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy
  • Injectable Amphetamines
  • Magic Mushrooms (all forms of psilocybin 'magic' mushrooms are now Class A drugs)
  • Any Class B drugs prepared for injection

Class B

  • Amphetamine
  • Codeine
  • Dihydrocodeine
  • Ritalin
  • Cannabis (herbal, resin,oil)
  • Ketamine
  • Mephedrone
  • Naphyrone
  • Some New Psychoactive Substances (formerly known as 'legal highs') 

Class C

  • Some drugs without a valid prescription such a valium, steroids and rohypnol
  • GHB (Gammahydroxbutyrate)
  • Khat
  • Some New Psychoactive Substances (formerly known as 'legal highs')   

The reason why?

The advice of Northumbria Police is simple – DON’T TAKE DRUGS.

Psychoactive Substances incorrectly referred to as ‘legal highs’ are illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

The government can ban new drugs for 1 year under a ' temporary banning order' while they decide how the drugs should be classified. NBOMe and Benzofuran compounds are currently banned under this order

  1. There is no ‘safe’ way to take drugs – there is always a risk.
  2. The only way of staying safe is to avoid drugs altogether.

Below shows a table for the penalties you could receive:

Maximum Penalties for Drugs Offences


Class A

Class B

Class C


7 years and/or a fine

5 years and/or a fine

2 years and/or a fine


Life and/or a fine

14 years and/or a fine

14 years and/or a fine

Unlawful Production

Life and/or a fine

14 years and/or a fine

14 years and/or a fine



What are the penalties for possessing or supplying drugs?

You can get a fine or prison sentence if you take, carry, make or sell drugs or psychoactive substances. The penalties depend on the drug and the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing the drug. For supplying Class A drugs you could get a life sentence in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

How can I keep myself safe?

If you think you could be pressurised into taking drugs, plan what you will say and do if you’re offered drugs before it happens.

  • Make an excuse not to be given the drug
  • If you’re offered or given the drug then don’t take it.
  • Encourage any friend you’re with not to take the drug
  • If you have taken a drug and feel unwell then seek urgent medical advice
  • If you are a young person then tell someone responsible about what happened

If I have a drug conviction will it affect me in later life?

Having a drug conviction can prevent you getting a job, especially since employers can now request information about previous convictions. Having a drug conviction can also stop you entering countries such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and many others.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), what are they?

Often misleadingly referred to as ‘legal highs’, these substances are designed to mimic the effects of drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy but have been created so that their chemical structure is different enough to avoid being controlled under current drug laws.

What should I do if I’m offered NPS?

Just because they are referred to as 'legal' doesn't mean they are safe.

  • There is no ‘safe’ way to take NPS – there is always a risk.
  • The only way of staying safe is to avoid NPS altogether.
  • You don’t know what you’re getting
  • Many NPS are new chemicals and haven’t been tested on humans.
  • Many of these chemicals have been found to contain harmful and toxic contents.
  • As you don’t know what chemical you’re consuming there is no way of knowing what the substance may do to your body. There have been reports of people being hospitalised and even dying after consuming NPS. Many people have also reported unpleasant effects to their physical and mental health as a result of taking these substances, such as psychosis, paranoia and seizures.

What do NPS look like?

Generally they are powders, pills or liquids.

Some people call them ‘legal highs’ - are they legal?

The name ‘legal highs’ is misleading because it suggests that these substances are safe and legal.

It doesn't mean they are safe!

Some have actually been found to contain drugs that are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

If you’re found in possession of NPS which tests positive for a controlled drug, then you will be charged with being in possession of a controlled drug, even although you may genuinely have thought you weren’t breaking the law.

What is meant by Volatile Solvent Abuse?

This includes inhalation of substances such as glue or gas from items such as aerosol canisters, cigarette lighters, plastic bags or tins.

What are the dangers?

There are immediate dangers associated with volatile solvent abuse such as suffocation.

Sometimes inhaling solvents can cause a person’s heart to stop beating resulting in sudden death. Even if this doesn’t happen, there are serious long term health implications associated with volatile solvent abuse.

Is it against the law to take solvents?

Depending on the circumstances it can be an offence. It is an extremely dangerous thing to do, be it gases, glue or aerosol. 

Harley my story - legal highs
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