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Precursor chemical licensing

Source: Home Office


The effective control of chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is an important tool in combating drug trafficking. These chemicals, known as ‘precursors’, also have legitimate commercial uses as they are legally used in a wide variety of industrial processes and consumer products, such as medicines, flavourings and fragrances.

It is necessary to recognise and protect the legal trade in these substances, while at the same time discouraging their diversion for illicit purposes. The objective therefore is to strike a balance between avoiding the restriction of legitimate trade and actions taken to prevent the illicit manufacture of drugs.

For example, ‘piperonal’ is a substance used in the manufacture of perfumes, flavourings, and anti-mosquito products. However it can also be used in the illicit production of synthetic drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine. Acetic anhydride is used in the chemical, photographic and pharmaceutical industries, but it is also used as the acetylating agent in the production of heroin.


UK implementation

These EU regulations are enacted in the United Kingdom through two statutory instruments which came into force on 7 March 2008. These give full effect to the relevant EU regulations in the UK and impose licence and reporting obligations on those dealing in scheduled substances.

  • Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Intra-Community Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 295) whose main objective is to prevent diversion of drug precursors for illicit manufacture while maintaining a competitive internal market for legitimate trade
  • Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Community External Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 296) whose main objective is to monitor international trade and prevent diversion of drug precursors for illicit drug manufacture

It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the requirements of these regulations. The penaltiesfor non-compliance are detailed on the SOCA website.


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