The law around NPS

The term coined by the media ‘legal high’, can be a misleading term because most of the substances are regulated by the Medicines Act, 1968. Consequently, they are considered illegal to sell, supply or advertise for ‘human consumption’.

What is the Misuse of Drugs Act?

The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971 is an act intended to prevent the non-medical use of certain drugs. For this reason it controls not just medicinal drugs (which will also be in the Medicines Act, 1968) but also drugs with no current medical uses. Drugs subject to this act are known as controlled substances. The law defines a series of offences, including unlawful supply, intent to supply, import or export (all these are collectively known as 'trafficking' offences), and unlawful production. The main difference from the Medicines Act, 1968 is that the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 also prohibits unlawful possession. To enforce this law the Police have the special powers to stop, detain and search people on reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of a controlled drug.

Drug classification

The laws controlling drug use are complicated. The Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 regulates what are termed controlled drugs. The act divides drugs into three classes: A, B and C. Class A drugs are considered the most dangerous and Class C as the least harmful.

Class A

These include Cocaine and Crack (a form of Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, LSD, Methadone, Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) Magic Mushrooms containing ester of psilocin and any Class B drug which is injected, such as, for example, Amphetamine.

Class B

These include Amphetamine (not Methamphetamine which is class A), NRG1 Mephedrone, 2-DPMP (Desoxypipradrol), Barbiturates, Codeine and Cannabis.

Class C

These include Anabolic Steroids, Ketamine, GHB, GBL, and minor tranquillisers, eg. Phenazepam, Rohypnol, Valium.

N.B. Certain controlled drugs such as Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Methadone, minor tranquillisers and occasionally Heroin can be obtained through a legitimate doctor’s prescription. In such cases their possession is not illegal.

Offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 can include:

  • Possession of a controlled drug
  • Possession with intent to supply another person
  • Production, cultivation or manufacture of controlled drugs
  • Supplying another person with a controlled drug
  • Offering to supply another person with a controlled drug
  • Import or export of controlled drugs
  • Allowing premises you occupy or manage to be used for the consumption of certain controlled drugs (e.g. smoking of cannabis or opium) or supply or production of any controlled drug.

Penalties in law

Drug Class Possession Supply
Class A 7 years + fine Life + fine Seizure of Assets
Class B 5 years + fine 14 years + fine If someone is caught making a profit from a crime, the Police can legally seize the criminal’s assets .e.g. house, bank account etc and the money is then often used for prevention work
Class C 2 years + fine 14 years + fine

Temporary Class Drugs

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has been amended to enable the Home Secretary to place any NPS (new psychoactive substance) not currently controlled under the Act (as a Class A, B or C) under temporary control by invoking a temporary class drug order. This new power was available from 15 November 2011.

This means that if a substance is being, or is likely to be misused; and is having, or is capable of having harmful effects, a temporary class drug order will come into immediate effect and last for up to 12 months. While under the temporary ban with the exception of the possession offence, all the offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 will apply. 

It may not be an offence to possess a NPS; however, it is an offence to supply. Supply is as simple as passing a substance to someone else, no money needs to be exchanged. 

So asking a friend, “Can you keep my Salvia in your bag whilst I pop to the toilet?” is in fact, supply.