Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Street drugs

Street drugs

Dealing in controlled drugs is illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This is a very serious offence that should be dealt with accordingly.

The impact

Drug dealing and drug use can cause a spiral of decline in an area as dealers take over residential premises or a street drug culture develops. The debris associated with drug use, such as used needles and syringes, can make areas dirty and unsafe.

What action can be taken to deal with drug and substance misuse?

Possession of and supply of controlled drugs is illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

In many situations drug misuse can cause alarm and distress to the community. When this occurs, it is important that enforcement action is swift and effective. Enforcement action should be followed by diversion into appropriate treatment and support.

Civil measures such as ASBOs (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and injunctions are available to protect the community from behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress. An order on conviction may be appropriate where someone is in court for drugs offences. Conditions of the order may include a ban from the area where drugs are being bought and used, or a specific ban on using drugs in public.

Drug use can also cause serious nuisance or disorder when it occurs within a domestic dwelling. In most cases, a tenant using drugs in a way that causes serious nuisance will be breaching their tenancy agreement. In England and Wales, under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, the local authority or police may after giving a written warning issue a community protection notice if the unreasonable conduct of an individual including the owner or occupier of premises is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality. The notice must specify the conduct complained of and the action required. It is an offence not to comply with the notice and the person issuing the notice can then apply for an order to enforce it. The police also have the power to issue a closure notice for premises used in such a way that causes a nuisance to the public or disorder.

Compulsory drugs testing for trigger offences under the Drugs Act 2005

In England and Wales, under Part 2 Section 7 of the Drugs Act 2005, police can drugs test those arrested for a variety of 'trigger' offences (including theft, robbery, burglary, aggravated burglary, taking a motor vehicle or other conveyance, aggravated vehicle-taking, handling stolen goods and begging). Where a police inspector or a more senior police officer suspects that drug misuse has contributed towards an offence, that offender can also be tested for drug misuse. Those who test positive for drugs will be obliged to attend a compulsory drug assessment by specialist drugs workers to determine the extent of their drug problem and help them into treatment and other support, even if they are not charged. Those who fail to provide a sample or comply with a required assessment, face a fine of up to £2,500 and/or up to three months in prison. These measures are only applicable in certain areas with high levels of drug related crime.

What action can be taken to tackle drug dealing?

Civil orders such as anti-social behaviour orders (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and injunctions can be sought by the local authority using hearsay evidence and professional witnesses and may, therefore, be available to deal with behaviour even where a criminal conviction can't be achieved.

In addition, the time periods for prohibitions contained in an anti-social behaviour order on conviction, can be suspended for the period of a prison sentence and can be used to ensure that the community continues to be protected after the release of the offender.

Housing related measures such as injunctions sought by Social Housing Landlords, ASBOs (Scotland and Northern Ireland), demoted tenancies (England and Wales) and recovery of possession, are all available in situations where a tenant is engaged in illegal or anti-social behaviour. Illegal activity such as drug dealing will also usually be a breach of a tenancy agreement.

In England and Wales, the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 also gives the police the power to close premises which are being used in a way that causes serious nuisance or disorder.

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