Cutting Agents and Drugs Sentencing

It is widespread for drugs to contain an adulterant or cutting agent, and the presence of cutting agents often leads to arguments when it comes to sentencing. There are typically two scenarios.

First scenario – Cutting agent found alongside drugs

This applies when, during the police investigation, a large amount of cutting agent is seized alongside the drugs. The prosecution argument will be that the quantity of drugs seized does not reflect the actual criminality as the drugs would have been adulterated, and the overall volume, and therefore harm, may be considerably greater.

Addressing this argument, the Court of Appeal has ruled:

‘…this case illustrates the point that the sentencing guideline, as always, has to be applied with a due sense of realism. We note that the quantity of drugs in this case cannot be considered in isolation. First, we observe that it was of a significant purity as has already been mentioned.

Secondly, there was found by the police a large quantity (590 grams) of a cutting agent. Those taken together would arithmetically be more than a kilogram. Applying a sense of realism as we consider must be done in cases of this kind, if this quantity of drugs of a significant purity had been cut, as it might have been done if the police had not by good fortune intercepted the operation, then there would have been a considerably larger amount of the Class A drugs concerned available for distribution in society.’

Second scenario – Cutting agent has already been added to seized drugs

The converse is the seizure of drugs that have already been adulterated and the defence argue that the proper volume of controlled drugs is far less than the seizure size. Given the ruling already cited above, it follows that such an argument will not meet with any measure of success.

It is however always important to consider the circumstances of each case. For example, the authors of a leading sentencing text observe that:

‘It will not always be appropriate to simply add the total weight of the cutting agent….If a person has 1kg of cutting agent but only 10g of cocaine it is clear that the intent will not be to use the entirety of that cutting agent in the distribution of drugs. In such circumstances, it would seem seriously unfair to approach the assessment of harm by reference to the entire quantity of cutting agent.’ (Harris & Walker, 2023).

Our lawyers have extensive experience of defending serious drugs cases and are familiar with the complex case law in this area. This means that we are always alert to the issues to be raised in cases involving cutting agents.

How can we help?

By keeping up to date with changes in legislation and case law, we are always best placed to give you the best possible advice. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or at