The use of illegal drugs is rife in society and a potential problem for pubs and clubs, requiring constant vigilance.  If your venue is found to be allowing, or turning a blind eye to drug taking or dealing, the risk of damage to reputation will inevitably impact on profitability and ultimately the value of the business – particularly if the premises licence is lost.

Problem for the licensee

A licensee who fails to tackle a drug problem in their pub risks a personal criminal conviction and loss of their premises licence.  The maximum penalty under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for knowingly permitting or suffering the production / supply of drugs or the smoking of cannabis on the premises depends on the class of drug involved.  For cocaine it is up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine; for ketamine up to 5 years and/or a fine.  If customers are found using drugs it will almost certainly also result in a licence review.

Problem for the landlord

A drugs problem at a tenanted premises is also a concern to the landlord and to any institutional investors.  As a landlord, when drafting a lease, you should be mindful of potential drug issues that could potentially arise at the premises and consider including the following in any lease:

  • a right to re-enter the premises to inspect
  • the right to forfeit the lease in the case of illegal activity on the premises.

Landlords should also consider whether it is preferable for them to hold the premises licence.  If the landlord holds the licence then it will be directly responsible if there is any illegal activity on the premises.  As an alternative, where the tenant holds the licence the landlord may ask the Licensing Authority for notification if there is any change to the tenant’s licence, so that they are put on notice at an early stage if there are any problems at the premises.

Some tenanted pub companies offer help and support to tenants with their operations – this may include training on how to deal proactively with any drugs issue arising at the premises.

Problem for the pub company

In a managed house, where the pub company will usually hold the licence, any drug issue will be dealt with by the manager of the premises.  As the employer you should provide guidance and support which will include a full staff training programme on how to deal with a drug issue.  There should be guidance on keeping premises clean, regular toilet inspections, the use of door supervisors and CCTV.

If a manager or other member of staff is found to be in breach of your drugs policy by failing to actively tackle drugs in the outlet you should consider disciplinary action in accordance with your disciplinary policy.

For a detailed look at how to pro-actively manage the issue of drugs in pubs see: Be proactive in the policing of drugs in your pubs 

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.