United Kingdom’s Drug Policy

Klinsmann Lee


October 27th, 2019

An overview of how the United Kingdom tackles drug issues and why supply-side reduction is so important to it.

On the supply side, the UK has the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Under this act, illegal drugs are classified into three categories: Class A, Class B and Class C. The maximum sentence for supplying and producing class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, is life imprisonment. On the other hand, offenders caught supplying class B and C drugs face a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

In dealing with drug possession, warnings and on-the-spot fines are the most common penalty. However, users caught with large amounts may also face imprisonment of up to 7 years. For people arrested, the process usually includes drug testings, assessment by drug workers and treatment. There are a range of treatment services provided by the National Health service including residential rehabilitation, motivational interviewing and counselling.


With a combination of demand and supply-side effort, the British government has seen some success in dealing with drug consumption. The numbers of drug users in structured treatment has more than doubled between 1998 and 2005. Successful implementation of a number of different harm reduction programs such as needle exchange and opiate substitution treatment have also limited deaths and transmission of infectious diseases.

However, there remains criticism that it is unreasonable that people could be jailed for possession of a small amount of drugs. The increase in the number of imprisonments related to drug use has contributed to the problem of overcrowded prisons. Importantly, treating drug use as a criminal matter rather than a health problem has led to criticism that it prevents large numbers of users from getting treatment.


Photo by Robert Tudor on Unsplash

[1] Peter, R., Alex, S. (2007). An analysis of UK drug policy. UK Drug Policy Commission. Retrieved from

[2] UK drug policy: What you need to know. (2014). BBC. Retrieved from

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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