Is possession and supply of drug paraphernalia illegal under the criminal law?

Drug paraphernalia

When talking about drug paraphernalia individuals will immediately think of instruments which are involved in the taking of cannabis – such as bongs, pipes and grinders. However, the term drug paraphernalia is not simply limited to cannabis as often instruments to help individuals take other forms of drugs such as cocaine can be bought and in some more serious cases instruments to help individuals take much more serious drugs can be supplied.

Head shops

Head shops are shops which can be based on local high streets and sell such things as pipes and bongs and are often places that legal highs can be bought from. It is legal for these shops to sell this kind of paraphernalia.

Is it legal for me to be in possession of this kind of paraphernalia?

It is legal for an individual to be in possession of this kind of paraphernalia as there are no provisions under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 making this a criminal offence. However, if you are caught in possession of such things if they contain traces of drugs on or in them you may be likely to be charged with possession. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act there are no provisions which state how much of the drug you need to be in possession of to have committed a criminal offence. Therefore even small traces of a certain drug on drug paraphernalia could be seen as possession and a criminal offence.

Needles and syringes

When discussing drug paraphernalia people do not often consider such things which may be provided for an individual to do harder drugs such as a needle or a syringe to enable an individual to take heroin. Possession of a syringe again is not a criminal offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act but similarly if that implement contains traces of the drug the individual could be arrested for possession.

Supply of this form of paraphernalia

When the Misuse of Drugs Act first came into existence it contained a provision making it a criminal offence to supply this kind of paraphernalia except for in certain circumstances – Section 9(a).

What was the reason for this section?

Section 9(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act was originally drafted in an attempt to prosecute dealers who sold entire drug kits to individuals to take certain drugs. Accordingly if the kit was found without the presence of any drugs a conviction could be made under the act.

Does this still remain the same position?

Section 9(a) has been the subject of much debate and as a consequence was amended in 2003 by the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations 2003.

What does the law now say?

Following the amendment of section 9(a) the following people can provide certain paraphernalia when acting in their proper capacity:

  • A practitioner

  • A pharmacist

  • A person employed or engaged in the lawful provision of drug treatment services

What paraphernalia can they supply?

It is legal under the act for the following paraphernalia to be supplied:

  • a swab

  • utensils for the preparation of a controlled drug

  • citric acid

  • a filter

  • ampoules of water for injection, only when supplied or offered for supply in accordance with the Medicines Act 1968

What is the purpose of this provision?

The purpose of this provision is to frame in law the ability to enable certain people to provide drug paraphernalia to addicts to ensure that the use of the drug is in controlled and safe environments such as needle exchanges.