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“They are adept at handling matters concerning complex criminal conspiracies, including people trafficking, gang-related violence and large-scale drug investigations.”
Chambers & Partners 2023

Drugs: Possession, Production, Supply, Importation, Conspiracy to Supply, Being Concerned in the Supply of Drugs

Recreational drug use is rife and drugs supply and associated offences form a significant part of the police and the court’s work. Sentences for drugs offences are typically among the harsher sentences in the court system. The landscape of drug investigations changes over the years as legislation adapts to newly created drugs, and as the larger drug suppliers alter their importation and distribution plans.

We have represented people at every point in the system, whether a senior gang member responsible for a major drug importation operation, a company director caught in possession, a schoolboy caught up in a county lines gang, or a university student holding a quantity of drugs for friends.

How we can help

We can represent you wherever you are based, whether it be in the UK or overseas. We support our clients through every stage of the criminal justice process, including:

  • Representation at interviews
  • Pre-charge engagement to prevent charges being brought against you
  • Magistrates Court proceedings
  • Crown Court Proceedings
  • Court of Appeal

For more information on any of the above click here, or if you have been requested to attend an interview or have notification of court proceedings, please contact us today.

The legal restrictions in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 aim to control the use and distribution of dangerous and harmful drugs. Use and distribution of ‘psychoactive substances’ is covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

There are four main offences associated with illegal drugs:

  • possession
  • supply
  • production
  • importation

What are controlled drugs?

Controlled drugs are classed according to their relative degree of overall harm from misuse. There are three classes of controlled drugs. The class of drug a person is caught possessing, supplying or producing affects the severity of the offence.

  • Class A drugs are treated as the most dangerous and include cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and crystal meth.
  • Class B drugs include codeine, ketamine, cannabis and ‘spice’.
  • Class C drugs include anabolic steroids, minor tranquilisers, GHB and khat.

Synthetic opioids are man-made drugs that mimic the effects of natural opioids like heroin. Some are used legally as prescriptions drugs, for example fentanyl. However, it is illegal to produce, supply or possess synthetic opioids without a prescription. Most synthetic opioids are treated as class A drugs.

Temporary class drugs are new drugs the government can ban for a year before it is decided how they should be classed. If the offence is supply or production, the temporary class drug will usually be treated like a class B drug. Simple possession of a temporary class drug is not an offence.

It is also an offence to supply or produce psychoactive substances like laughing gas. Possession of a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution such as a prison is also illegal.

Possession - Section5 (1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Possession means being caught with drugs, even if they do not belong to the person caught. The police have the power to stop, detain and search people on ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they are in possession of a controlled drug. The penalty for possession depends on the class and quantity of the drug, and where the person and the drugs were found.

Possession with Intent to Supply  - Section 5 (3) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Possession with intent to supply is a more serious offence that may be proved by:

  • direct evidence, for example by witness testimony or surveillance
  • possessing a quantity of drugs inconsistent with personal use
  • possessing uncut drugs
  • possessing a variety of drugs
  • evidence the drug has been prepared for sale, for example it has been cut into small portions separately wrapped
  • drug related equipment being found in the care/control of the suspect, for example weighing scales, cutting agents, bags or wraps

Supply includes dealing or sharing drugs – even if just with friends. It does not require proof of payment or reward. The penalty for supplying drugs depends on the amount of drugs found and the class of drug.

  • Supplying a controlled drug - s.4(3)(a) of the Act;
  • Being concerned in a supply - s.4(3)(b) of the Act;
  • Offering to supply - s.4(3)(a) of the Act;
  • Being concerned in an offer to supply - s.4(3)(c) of the Act.

Being Knowingly Concerned in the Supply of Drugs

Section 4(3)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 states that: ‘Subject to section 28 of this Act, it is an offence for a person…(b) to be concerned in the supplying of such a drug to another in contravention of that subsection…’

There is no mention in the Act of a supply being a successful and completed act. The offence of being knowingly concerned will cover conduct which is preparatory to the actual supply, although the prosecution must prove that a supply, or an offer to supply, has been made. Section 4(3)(b) can apply to anyone concerned in the drug supply chain, regardless of whether their role or participation was successful in any given transaction or operation.  If a car is stopped by the police with three occupants, one of whom had a significant quantity of drugs and the other two occupants deny all knowledge, these two may yet be charged with an offence, if it can be shown that they are lending assistance, for example by driving or providing security or being beneficiaries of the purchase of the drugs.

Conspiracy to Supply

Conspiracy involves an agreement between 2 or more people to commit a crime. That crime may be to supply drugs. Anyone involved in planning, arranging, transporting, funding, holding or selling the drugs may be part of the alleged conspiracy. The alleged members of the conspiracy do not all need to know one another.  

Production is committed when a suspect has some identifiable participation in the process of producing an illegal drug, by making it, growing it or any other method.

  • Production of a controlled drug - s.4(2)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Being Concerned in the production - s.4(2)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Cultivation of the cannabis plant - s.6(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Importation (and exportation) of a controlled drug - s.170 Customs and Excise Management Act 1979

Importation means the illegal importation or exportation of a controlled drug.

Parliament sets the maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

What is the maximum sentence for drug-related offences?

The maximum sentence depends on whether a person is charged with possession, supply or production, and what class of drug the offence is related to. For the offence of supply:  

This is triable either way, in the mMagistrates or the crown court (unless the defendant could receive the minimum sentence of seven years for a third drug trafficking offence in which case the case will always go to the crown court)

The maximum sentences available, and the sentencing range within which a Judge should generally operate, is as follows:

Class A
Maximum: Life imprisonment
Offence range: High level community order – 16 years’ custody

Class B
Maximum: 14 years’ custody and/ or unlimited fine
Offence range: Band B fine – 10 years’ custody

Class C
Maximum: 14 years’ custody and/ or unlimited fine
Offence range: Band A – 8 years’ custody


Drugs allegations come in all shapes and sizes. We have extensive experience of representing suspects and defendants in every type of situation, at all levels, including:

  • Students accused of buying for a small group of friends
  • Large scale importations
  • County lines cases
  • Cannabis factories
  • Home grown cannabis
  • Premises being used
  • Possession of Class A drugs

Whatever the allegation we will test and challenge the prosecution case. Some offences require specific knowledge. We will explore with you fully the extent of your involvement and will prepare your case wherever possible obtaining evidentiary support for your defence.

The police often rely on circumstantial evidence such as phone contacts, bank account analysis, and tracking of vehicles and phones. We understand how this information is deployed and the limits of such information. Where necessary we instruct experts to provide analysis and interpretation of data relied on by the prosecution.

We accept instructions on a private basis. We also conduct work funded through the Legal Aid system however we do not take on all publicly funded cases and not all lawyers in the firm are available for this work. Please contact us to discuss private case costs and eligibility for legal aid.

For more information on any of the above click here, or if you have been requested to attend an interview or have notification of court proceedings, please contact us today.

Contact the team

Telephone: 020 7734 9700

Laura Porteous
Senior Associate
Peter Walsh
Senior Paralegal
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