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Commonly mentioned in crime dramas, there are three different classifications of illegal substances in the United Kingdom. These classifications were drawn up in 1971 in the Misuse of Drugs Act.
- Class A: Heroin, cocaine/crack, ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms, among others. The most serious category in the eyes of the law, with penalties up to seven years for possession and life for intent to supply. Class B substances become class A when prepared for injection.
- Class B: Amphetamines, cannabis (which enjoyed a brief stint in class C before being put back in B), and various others. Penalties up to 5 years for possession and 14 for supply.
- Class C: Steroids, ketamine, GHB and benzodiazepines without a valid prescription. Penalties up to 2 years for possession and 14 for supply.
Note that prison sentences for possession are very rarely given (generally because it actually does more harm than good in many cases), and maximum penalties are almost unheard of except in the case of major trafficking, cultivation or manufacturing operations.
A minor political issue in the last decade has been whether certain drugs should be reclassified. Notably cannabis was reduced from class B to C under Tony Blair's premiership, and then raised again under Gordon Brown's.
The United States does something similar, using the term "Schedule" for controlled substance classification. There are five Schedules; C-V drugs are the least addicting of the bunch (cough syrup with small amounts of codeine). C-III and C-IV drugs (opioid painkillers laced with acetaminophen, and most sedatives, respectively) carry a mild to moderate risk of abuse and/or dependence. Drugs in the C-I and C-II Schedules carry a moderate to high risk of abuse and/or dependence. The former are essentially totally illegal, as they are perceived as having no "officially recognized medical use" (heroin, marijuana, LSD, etc.). C-II drugs (stimulants for people with AD(H)D, and top-notch painkillers for chronic conditions) are highly controlled; legitimate users must obtain a paper prescription every month and physically transport it to their pharmacy to be processed.