Drug use is rife in our society, particularly in the late night economy.  Increasingly drugs are also being used and dealt in pubs.  It is important that licensees and pub staff are aware of the potential problem and the resulting damage to the reputation of the premises and the licence if a drug problem is not tackled.

A problem for the licensee

If you fail to tackle a drug problem in your pub you risk a potential criminal conviction and losing your premises licence.  Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 if the manager of a premises knowingly permits or suffers the production or supply of drugs or the smoking of cannabis on their premises then they are liable to criminal prosecution.  The maximum penalty depends on the class of drug involved. For example, permitting the supply of cocaine on your premises could result in up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine and for ketamine use up to 5 years and/or a fine.  If customers are found using drugs it will almost certainly also result in a licence review. There is the further knock on effect of damage to the brand as a result of bad publicity.

Tackling the problem

The police appreciate what a difficult issue drugs are for publicans and club owners and will work with them to prevent drug use in pubs.  It may be that drugs do get used and dealt on your premises but you will be in a better position to defend yourself as manager and your licence if you can show that you are taking the initiative and working to prevent the problem arising.  The police will take a very dim view of a premises which “turns a blind eye”.

A publican in Biggin Hill was stripped of his licence following a drugs raid where four customers were arrested for possession of cocaine.  Following a full review he was allowed to keep his licence but subject to conditions that he install CCTV, remove all horizontal surfaces from the toilets and work with the police to enforce a robust drugs policy.

To be proactive in the fight against drugs in pubs you should consider the following:

Liaise with police – In some areas police are taking a very pro-active approach to tackling drugs in pubs and are running workshops and seminars to assist.  In some instances the police will swab areas in local pubs and produce a report for the licence holder showing where drugs have been used on the premises.  They will also teach licence holders how to swab and monitor results.  Contact your local police to find out more.

Door supervisors – Where finances permit, a good and well trusted team of door supervisors is crucial in preventing drug dealing on your premises.  In order for searches to be carried out on entry to the premises this fact should be clearly advertised.  Searches can only be carried out with an individual’s consent although entry can be denied to those who refuse to consent.  Any drugs seized should be put in a drug safe until disposed of to police.

Keep premises clean – the most effective way of making your premises unattractive to drug dealers and users is to regularly clear glasses, wipe surfaces and to generally be very visible as management.  This shows that you are committed to high service standards and are unlikely to tolerate illegal activity.

CCTV – CCTV can be used and does provide a deterrent when a record of all of those who have entered the premises is kept.  It can be used to cover secluded areas which may be used by drug dealers.  If you use CCTV you must comply with the Data Protection and SIA licensing conditions – see CCTV for monitoring staff and customers  for further details.

Regular toilet supervision – It is important that toilets are supervised if drug taking or dealing has been taking place there.  This will discourage crowds from congregating in the toilet area and remove this as the obvious area to deal drugs.  Ensure that staff who are inspecting are trained in what to do next if they find illegal activity taking place.

Drugs policy – It is not a legal requirement to have a drugs policy however, if you do it will demonstrate that you are committed to tackling drugs in your premises and to operating within the law.  Your policy should also cover psychoactive substances. When drafting the policy you will be forced to consider issues relevant to your premises and how you and your staff can address these.  Staff should be trained in how to implement the policy, such as how to be vigilant in spotting the signs of drug taking or dealing.  The policy should include a procedure for logging all suspicions of drug dealing or taking and a procedure for the secure keeping of any drugs found and their handover to police.  Any search policy will need to be advertised to customers.  It is important to discuss your drugs policy with your local police and to include in the document when the Police should and expect to be called.  See Safer Nightlife (below) guidance on drawing up a drugs policy.

Staff training – staff will need to trained to look for the signs of drug use such as white powder on flat surfaces and torn up beer mats.  The BBPA guide (See below) includes many useful examples of the signs to look out for.


If you are proactive in the fight against drugs in your pub you should be able to discourage users and dealers from using your premises.  If a problem does arise you will be in the best position to spot and tackle it.  If you have established a good relationship with your local police they are likely to be able to assist you by arranging raids with sniffer dogs when you ask them too.

Further guidance

The Home Office have published a useful publication called Safer Nightlife – Best Practice for those concerned about drug use in the night-time economy.

The BBPA have also published guidance entitled Drugs and 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.