What is drug trafficking? 

Drug trafficking is globally recognized and a high-profile area of the law, which involves the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, supply and sale of substances such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin, which are subject to drug prohibition laws.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) states that drug trafficking to the UK costs an estimated £10.7 billion per year and that the use of illegal drugs, particularly Class A, impacts on the social and economic well-being of the country. Drug trafficking is a major threat and drugs are widely available throughout the UK with—

  • An estimated 18-23 tonnes of heroin and 25-30 tonnes of cocaine imported annually into the UK; and
  • An estimated 270 tonnes of cannabis needed to satisfy annual UK user demand (cannabis being the most widely used illegal drug, with the UK wholesale market worth almost £1 billion a year)

The resources available to the NCA and Regional Crime Agencies that investigate these types of offences are significant. In an effort to detect, control and limit the supply and distribution of controlled drugs extensive surveillance tactics are often used, with the Police or NCA often undertaking lengthy undercover operations, some of which can last for months or years.

What is possession with intent to distribute?

Unlawful possession, unlawful supply and intent to supply ‘controlled’ and/or psychoactive drugs are criminal offences under The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016).

To be charged with possession with intent to supply you must be caught in possession of a ‘controlled’ drug with evidence of intention of passing the controlled substance to someone else who has no legal right to possess it. Being charged with supplying drugs or suspected of supplying drugs is considered a much more serious crime than simply being charged for possession.

If you are caught in possession of a small amount of a ‘controlled’ drug and charged with intent to supply, you may plead guilty to the charge of possession but not guilty to supply on the grounds that the drugs seized were for personal use only. However, it is important to note that statements made at the time of arrest can be significant; for example, if a person is simply found in possession of a small amount of drugs but states that they are for a friend, that person could subsequently be charged with the more serious offence of possession with intent to supply.

If an intention to supply cannot be proved by direct evidence in the form of admissions or witness testimony, the prosecution will attempt to prove guilt for intent to distribute based on inference or circumstantial evidence, including:

  • Possession of drug supply paraphernalia such as scales, small bags that may be used to “bag-up” drugs, cling film and large sums of unexplained cash
  • Possession of a quantity that may be inconsistent with personal use
  • Possession of drugs that are a high purity which suggests that they are uncut i.e. diluted down.

Distribution of drugs is not limited to dealing or selling drugs for profit—the issue of financial gain is primarily relevant for the purposes of establishing the scale and background to the supply chain and for sentencing. Drug supply ranges from large-scale commercial trafficking for profit to simply passing a controlled substance from one person to another, i.e. passing a joint between friends.

While simply supplying drugs is not considered as serious as the importation of drugs into the country, or it’s actual production, it still carries a significant sentence and will inevitably impact on every aspect of life. Sentencing for distribution cases is complicated. The court will consider a number of factors including the defendant’s culpability and harm associated with the offence when determining the type and length of any sentence imposed.Whether the case is one involving social supply or for financial gain, will be one of the main factors taken into consideration. Possession with intent to supply Class A drugs will almost always justify a prosecution and likely prison sentence if the person is convicted of that offence.

Every case is different and the outcome will depend on several factors. Due to the complexity of police and NCA investigations this can be a highly complex area of the law, with cases often involving thousands of pages of evidence. Expert legal advice is vital to ensure that the evidence is understood. It is this evidence that the Police and Prosecution will be relying upon and every piece of evidence will be significant in building the case. If you have been charged with possession with intent to supply, importation of controlled drugs you should take immediate and expert legal advice to ensure your case is considered in detail and that the most favourable result is obtained on your behalf.

Lawtons have extensive experience of dealing with serious drug supply and importation cases that have been brought by the NCA (formerly known as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency) or some of the specialist Regional Police teams. We can instruct some of the leading barristers and experts in the preparation of our client’s cases.