The class of a controlled drug is intended to reflect the harm associated with it. Parliament determines the relevant class based on the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (‘ACMD’). This classification, in turn, determines the penalties that are available to the Courts when sentencing.
Class A drugs are considered by Parliament to be the most harmful. This category includes heroin, methadone, cocaine (including crack cocaine), ecstasy, magic mushrooms and ‘crystal meth’. An offence involving a Class A substance carries the harshest penalties.
Class B drugs are considered by Parliament to be less harmful than Class A drugs and include amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis and dihydrocodeine. Certain Class B drugs are reclassified to Class A if they have been prepared for injection. These include amphetamines, dihydrocodeine and codeine.
Class C drugs are considered by Parliament to be the least harmful of the controlled drugs. These include benzodiazepines, steroids and subutex (buprenorphine).
Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDO)
The Home Secretary can make a temporary class drug order (TCDO) under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 should there be a substance that is causing sufficient concern with regards to harm and it is not already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class A, B or C substance.
The TCDO will be put in place for a period of 12 months. During or at the end of the 12-month period the TCDO is subject to Parliamentary review. The Parliamentary review involves an independent report given by the ACMD who detail their concerns as to the effect of the substance and what steps should be taken.
After 12 months the TCDO will expire unless it is brought under permanent control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It should be noted that, so far, no substance subject to a TCDO has had its status expired or discharged and the TCDO has either been extended or the drug has been controlled as a Class A, B, or C substance.
If there is a TCDO in place on a substance then all offences relevant to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 apply except for possession.
A substance subject to a TCDO is deemed, by default, a Class B drug unless otherwise specified by the Order itself.