what happens when you get caught with weed

Drugs penalties

You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:

  • take drugs
  • carry drugs
  • make drugs
  • sell, deal or share drugs (also called ‘supplying’ them)

The penalties depend on the type of drug or substance, the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing it.

Types of drugs

The maximum penalties for drug possession, supply (selling, dealing or sharing) and production depend on what type or ‘class’ the drug is.

Drug Possession Supply and production
Class A Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA ), heroin, LSD , magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth) Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Class B Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (for example mephedrone, methoxetamine) Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Class C Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB ), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL ), piperazines (BZP ), khat Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both (except anabolic steroids – it’s not an offence to possess them for personal use) Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Temporary class drugs* Some methylphenidate substances (ethylphenidate, 3,4-dichloromethylphenidate (3,4-DCMP), methylnaphthidate (HDMP-28), isopropylphenidate (IPP or IPPD), 4-methylmethylphenidate, ethylnaphthidate, propylphenidate) and their simple derivatives None, but police can take away a suspected temporary class drug Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

*The government can ban new drugs for 1 year under a ‘temporary banning order’ while they decide how the drugs should be classified.

Psychoactive substances penalties

Psychoactive substances include things like nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’).

You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:

  • carry a psychoactive substance and you intend to supply it
  • make a psychoactive substance
  • sell, deal or share a psychoactive substance (also called supplying them)
Psychoactive substances Possession Supply and production
Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others None, unless you’re in prison Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Food, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, medicine and the types of drugs listed above do not count as psychoactive substances.

Possessing drugs

You may be charged with possessing an illegal substance if you’re caught with drugs, whether they’re yours or not.

If you’re under 18, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you’ve been caught with drugs.

Your penalty will depend on:

  • the class and quantity of drug
  • where you and the drugs were found
  • your personal history (previous crimes, including any previous drug offences)
  • other aggravating or mitigating factors


Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if you’re found with cannabis.

Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £60 on the first 2 times that you’re found with khat. If you’re found with khat more than twice, you could get a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Dealing or supplying drugs

The penalty is likely to be more severe if you are found to be supplying drugs (dealing, selling or sharing).

The police will probably charge you if they suspect you of supplying drugs. The amount of drugs found and whether you have a criminal record will affect your penalty.

More information

Talk to FRANK has help, information and advice about drugs.

The penalties if you are caught taking or dealing drugs – drug classification, fines and prison sentences

A state-by-state breakdown of what happens when you get busted with weed

For nearly 30 years, the War on Drugs has been fought with scales. Signed by President Reagan, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established mandatory minimum sentences of 5 and 10 years in federal prison without parole for first-time drug offenders, the penalty determined by the type of narcotic and the amount in your possession.

The bill, which is infamous for its racial and socioeconomic bias, was intended to target high-level traffickers but the weights for some drugs, such as crack cocaine, which was predominantly used in low-income communities, were so disproportionately low that it ensared small-time dealers and even users.

The good news for weed heads: You had to possess 100 plants or 100 kilos of marijuana—frankly, a lot of bud—to get five years. Of course, carrying lesser amounts could still get you in trouble.

Since President Obama admitted to inhaling repeatedly, Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012, and Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, Maryland, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont may follow suit within the next two years, you might think it’s all good to have some weed on you now.

But laws and possession punishments differ from state to state, so before you go prancing around with your goodies, you’d better know what will get you in trouble where.

You don’t want to take a road trip like Cheech and Chong in Up In Smoke and get caught with a gram more than is legal to hold in that state. To help you avoid that fate, Complex created a comprehensive marijuana map to educate you about the possession penalties.

Depending on how much you’re carrying, serious jail time and a hefty fine may lurk over your head. Prison times range from a couple days to 10 years, with fines of up to $350,000. Categories consist of a gram, an eighth (3.5 g), a quarter (7 g), a half (14 g/0.5 oz), and, for those ambitious marijuana connoisseurs, a pound.

All of the punishments are based on a first-time offense and a maximum possible fine. States are grouped according to jail time and fine severity, giving you the ideal route for a marijuana-friendly road trip. Now get out there and see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side.

Depending on the state, a marijuana charge could cost little, or a lifetime.