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New sentencing guidelines for drug offences published – 27.01.21

The Sentencing Council has today published, in accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, eight new definitive guidelines for sentencing drug offences. The new guidelines will come into effect on 1st April 2021.

For the first time, Judges and magistrates in England and Wales will have updated sentencing guidelines for offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971 to reflect modern drug offending and new guidelines for offences created by the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) 2016 to bring clarity and transparency around the sentencing process for drug offences. The new guidelines update the guidelines published in 2012 and will apply to adult offenders.

The eight guidelines are:

  • Importation of controlled drugs (section 3 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971);
  • Supply/ possession with intent to supply controlled drugs (PWITS) (section 4(3) and section 5(3) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971);
  • Production of a controlled drug/ cultivation of a cannabis plant (4(2)(a) or (b) MDA and 6(2) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971);
  • Permitting premises to be used for drug related activity (section 8 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971);
  • Possession of a controlled drug (section 5(2) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971);
  • Importation of a psychoactive substance (section 8 Psychoactive Substances Act 2016);
  • Supply/ possession with intent to supply a psychoactive substance (PWITS) (section 5 and section 7 Psychoactive Substances Act 2016); and
  • Production of a psychoactive substance (section 4 Psychoactive Substances Act 2016).

All of the guidelines are available on the Sentencing Council website:

Alongside the guidelines, we have also published a response to the consultation and other related documents. 

Analysis conducted by the Council in preparation for the guidelines suggests there are disparities in sentence outcomes for some drugs offences associated with ethnicity. The Council has taken measures in the guidelines to address this, including drawing sentencers’ attention, as an integral part of the sentencing process, to evidence of sentencing disparities for specific offences. The Council is committed to continuing to investigate apparent disparity in sentencing outcomes across all offences and will take further action as and when there is evidence of effective measures that can be applied to guidelines.

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