Overview

Drug precursor chemicals are controlled by the Home Office because they can be used to produce illicit drugs. They can also have legitimate commercial uses.

You’ll need to apply for an import and/or export licence when trading with EU countries in certain categories of drug precursor chemicals from 1 January 2021. Current rules for trading in these chemicals with countries outside the EU will apply to trade with the EU.

There will be no change to existing licensing and registration requirements for:

  • handling drug precursor chemicals solely within the UK
  • trading with non-EU countries

You may need to apply for a domestic licence or registration. Applications usually take 12 to 16 weeks to process once we’ve received the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all those named on the licence.

You cannot apply for an import or export licence if you do not hold a domestic licence.

The Home Office may need to send a pre-export notification (PEN) depending on the category of chemical and the individual country’s requirements.

 

How drug precursor chemicals are regulated by the Home Office

Drug precursors are divided into 4 categories:

  • category 1: the most sensitive substances, such as piperonal, chloroephedrine and ergometrine
  • category 2: less sensitive substances and pre-precursors, such as acetic anhydride, piperidine and phenylacetic acid
  • category 3: bulk chemicals that can have different uses, such as toluene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and sulphuric acid
  • category 4: medicinal products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine

This list is not exhaustive. Find out which chemicals are currently controlled by the Home Office and how they’re categorised.

 

Changes to trading arrangements for each category of drug precursor chemicals

 

Category 1 substances

You’ll need a domestic drug precursor chemical licence if you’re using drug precursors in the UK or trading with any other country.

You’ll need to apply for an import or export licence.

The Home Office will issue a PEN.

 

Category 2A substances

You’ll need to register with the Home Office for a licence if you want to trade with the EU.

You’ll need to apply for an export licence. You will not need an import licence.

The Home Office will issue a PEN.

 

Category 2B substances

You’ll need to register with the Home Office for a licence if you want to trade with the EU.

You’ll need to apply for an export licence. You will not need an import licence.

The Home Office may issue a PEN depending on the requirements of the country you’re exporting to.

 

Category 3 substances

You’ll need to register with the Home Office for a licence if you export to the EU in quantities which exceed between 20kg and 100kg per year, depending on the chemical.

You’ll need to apply for an export authorisation if you’re exporting above certain quantities. You will not need an import licence.

The Home Office may issue a PEN depending on the requirements of the country you’re exporting to.

 

Category 4 substances

You’ll need to register with the Home Office for a licence if you want to export to the EU.

You may need to apply for an export licence depending on the requirements of the country you’re exporting to. You will not need an import licence.

The Home Office may issue a PEN depending on the requirements of the country you’re exporting to.

 

Applying for domestic licences and registrations

You can apply for a domestic licence and registrations for drug precursor chemicals. Fees for domestic licences range from £109 to £3,655, depending on whether you already hold a licence.

You’ll need an individual licence or registration for each site handling drug precursor chemicals.

Import and export licences can only be issued to holders of a valid domestic licence. Domestic licences are valid for 1 year.

 

Applying for import and export licences and registrations

The import and exporting licensing requirements will come into effect after the UK leaves the EU from 1 January 2021.

The fee for an individual export or import licence is £24.

The Home Office will process applications in date order. The expected processing time is 7 working days.

You should expect another 15 days’ processing time if a PEN is required while the importing authority considers your export.

All import licences are normally valid for 3 months and export licences will be valid for 2 months or in line with the importing country’s permit, whichever expires first.

Import and export licences can only be issued to holders of a valid domestic licence.

You must register for a National Drugs Control System (NDS) account to apply for import or export licences.

You can apply online for a licence once you’ve registered. Individual import and/or export licences are required every time a shipment takes place.

 

More information

You can find out more about drug precursor chemical licensing on GOV.UK.

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