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Drugs and the law

The difference between possession and selling


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

The Republic and Northern Ireland have slight differences in their laws on drugs.

The facts on drugs and the law

  • It's the type of drug and the quantity that decides what punishment the court gives you. If you have a large amount of drugs then you might be charged with planning to sell (deal) to other people. This is a serious offence. 
  • With possession of other illegal drugs for your own use, you can be fined and/or jailed for up to seven years.
  • With possession of illegal drugs for supply (or dealing) you can be fined and/or jailed for a maximum sentence as much as life imprisonment. 
  • It's illegal to grow cannabis plants or opium poppies.
  • If you're caught with cannabis for your own use and it's a first offence then you'll be fined. With more offences the court can order up to three years prison time.

Possession for personal use

If you are charged with possession of drugs, you must convince the court that it was for your own "immediate personal use". In deciding this, they will consider how much of the drug was seized by Gardaí. The law doesn’t state a particular amount of drugs but it must be "tangible and visible". This means that you can be charged for possessing even the smallest amounts of drugs.

Intent to supply

The court may decide that the drugs were not intended for personal use and that you planned to sell them or supply to other people. Money does need to change hands for you to be guilty of intent to supply. Usually it is the amount of drugs seized which determines what you are charged with. You do not have to physically possess them – you may be in possession of a drug which is in the hands of another person.

Find out more about drugs and the law in the Republic of Ireland here.

In Northern Ireland drugs are divided into classes (A, B, C, etc.). The punishment is most serious for Class A drugs.

  • Class A includes Opium, Crack, Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy and LSD, Magic Mushrooms and Amphetamines (speed) for injection. Being caught with these drugs for your own use can mean up to seven years prison time and/or a fine. Being caught with enough for supplying (or dealing) can mean up to life imprisonment and/or a fine. 
  • Class B includes Amphetamines (speed), Barbiturates and Codeine. Being caught with these drugs for your own use can mean up to five years prison time and/or a fine.  Being caught with these drugs for supply (or dealing) can mean up to 14 years prison time and/or a fine. 
  • Class C includes Cannabis, some painkillers, most anabolic steroids and tranquillizers. Being caught with these drugs for your own use can mean up to two years prison time and a fine. Being caught with these drugs for supply (or dealing) can mean up to five years prison time and a fine.

Possession of drugs

  • If you're arrested for possession of drugs, the seriousness of the offence is decided by whether you only had enough for personal use or you had enough to supply (or sell) to others.
  • Personal use is less serious and is all about quantity of the drug. The court will decide if the amount is small enough to just be for immediate personal use or not.
  • If the court decides the drug amount you have is more than for personal use, you'll be charged with possession for supply. This means you're being charged with having the illegal drugs to sell or give to others. It doesn't matter if you've actually sold the drug or not. 
  • The Gardaí or the Police can legally search you or a vehicle without a warrant if they suspect you might have illegal drugs in your possession or have drug involvement. 
  • They can also arrest you if they've reasonable grounds to suspect you of a crime under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
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Published February 26th, 2013
Last updated October 27th, 2015
Tags drugs illegal gardai
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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