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Drug guidelines suggest lighter sentences for ‘social dealers’

People who buy drugs to share with friends could avoid prison under guidance that also recognises medical use of cannabis.

Recreational drug users who naively buy small quantities to share with their friends could avoid jail under sentencing guidelines for drug offences published on Tuesday.

rolling a joint cannabis marijuana spliffThe sentencing council also spells out explicitly, for the first time, that the medical use of cannabis for serious conditions should be recognised by the courts as a mitigating factor when sentencing offenders.

The official guidance for the courts, which comes into force next month, also recommends a less draconian approach to the sentencing of “drug mules”.

The council says it recognises that mules are often women who have been coerced or exploited by organised criminals: judges should take a six-year prison sentence as their “starting point”, rather than the current 10 years, when considering cases of mules playing a “lesser role” in bringing in up to 1kg of heroin or cocaine.

The first comprehensive guidelines, which reflect the current practice in the courts, recommend no change in sentencing for possession or supplying illegal drugs. A criminal who sells drugs in the street for a profit can expect to be sent to prison, with those dealing heroin or cocaine likely to get at least four and a half years.

Those who sell drugs to anyone under 18 are to be treated more severely, and there are to be longer sentences for industrial levels of production, for example, in cannabis factories.

The guidelines retreat from prescribing precise amounts of each drug to gauge how serious an offence is. Instead, quantities of drugs are classified into four broad categories, with sentencing determined by whether the offender played a leading, significant or lesser role.

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