Drug Offences Consultation

Closed 7 May 2020

Opened 15 Jan 2020


Why Drug offences?

The Sentencing Council’s Drug Offences Definitive guideline came into force in February 2012. It includes guidelines for sentencing offences of importation/exportation, supply, possession with intent to supply, production, permitting premises to be used, and possession, all relating to drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (the MDA).

The Council evaluated the guideline and published its assessment in June 2018. The evaluation found that the guideline had led to some small unanticipated changes in sentencing severity but its overall effect was not considered to be a cause for concern. However, drug offending has changed over time as, for example, new drugs emerge and the nature of offending changes. The evaluation also gave some indications that drug offending was becoming more serious. In addition, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 (the PSA) created new offences of importation/exportation, supply, possession with intent to supply, production and possession in a custodial institution in relation to psychoactive substances not controlled under the MDA.

The Council has therefore decided to review the current Drug offences guidelines and revise them to ensure that they reflect the type of offending coming before the courts today, and to include the new legislation on psychoactive substances for the first time.

Drug offences are high volume offences both in the magistrates’ courts and Crown Court. In 2018 there were around 31,900 adult offenders sentenced for offences under the MDA and PSA, 64 per cent were dealt with in the magistrates’ courts, and 36 per cent in the Crown Court.[1]

The revised drug offences guideline will provide sentencers across the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts with guidance for all of the offences listed below, which will assist in achieving the Council’s objective of consistent sentencing, and provide transparency for the public regarding the penalties for these offences.

Which offences are covered by the guideline?

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971:

  • section 3 (and Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (section 170(2)) – fraudulent evasion of a prohibition by bringing into or taking out of the UK a controlled drug
  • section 4(3) – supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug
  • section 5(3) – possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply it to another
  • section 4(2)(a) or (b) – production of a controlled drug
  • section 6(2) – cultivation of a cannabis plant
  • section 8 – permitting premises to be used for drug-related activity
  • section 5(2) – possession of a controlled drug

Psychoactive Substances Act 2016:

  • section 4 – producing a psychoactive substance
  • section 5 – supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance
  • section 7 – possession of a psychoactive substance with intent to supply
  • section 8 – importing or exporting a psychoactive substance
  • section 9 – possession of a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution

What is the Council consulting about?

The Council has produced this consultation paper in order to seek views from as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of drug offences.

However, it is important to clarify that the Council is consulting on sentencing guidelines for these offences and not the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise.

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guideline more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • the approach taken to structuring the draft guidelines;
  • the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed;
  • differences between the current guidelines and these new, revised guidelines; and
  • anything else you think should be considered.

A summary of the consultation questions can be found at Annex A.

What else is happening as part of the consultation process?

This is a 12-week public consultation. During the consultation period, the Council will host a number of consultation meetings to seek views from groups with an interest in this area as well as “road testing” the draft guidelines with sentencers. Once the consultation exercise is over and the results considered, a final guideline will be published and used by all courts.

Alongside this consultation paper, the Council has produced an online questionnaire.  The Council has also produced a resource assessment for the guideline, along with a statistical bulletin and data tables showing current sentencing practice for these offences. The online questionnaire, resource assessment, statistical bulletin and data tables can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk

In the following sections each of the proposed guidelines is outlined in detail and you will be asked to give your views. You can give your views by answering some or all of the questions below either by email to consultation@sentencingcouncil.gov.uk or by using the online questionnaire.


[1] The statistics in this document are sourced from the Court Proceedings Database, Ministry of Justice.


  • Legal professionals


  • Courts