‘They just said smoke it off campus’: What actually happens when you get caught with drugs at uni

Not every uni has a zero tolerance policy

Drugs at uni are part of the experience, many would argue. It’s a time to experiment and “do as you please” is the general sentiment, so long as it’s not damaging to your health.

Each uni has a drugs policy, and how it’s dealt with if a student is caught differ widely. Whilst certain unis back the traditional zero tolerance policy, which has come under criticism for its ineffectiveness, others are taking a more liberal approach that often involves support and mentoring rather than exclusion.

According to our drug survey, 81 per cent of students admitted to using drugs at uni, making the policy in the way they’re dealt with ever more important.

We spoke to students about their experiences with being caught in possession, and what actually happened compared official policies.


Official Policy: The uni has a duty of care for its students and aims to provide a safe and healthy environment for all. They also have a duty to operate within the law. As part of this, the possession, use or distribution of illegal drugs or unlawful supply of alcohol on uni property or as part of any uni activities is prohibited.

But, they’re keen to push forward it’s counselling and well-being service for those seeking support.

Student Experience:  Jon’s experience started with him and a friend had stepping out of halls to go and buy some ket. He left his bag on the table which had 2CB and some mandy in it. “There was a noise complaint after we left so halls security came and saw this bag of drugs on the table. They obviously asked who’s it was but no one came forward at first, but after they said that everyone would be capable they told them it was my mate. So they called my mate telling him to come back, I stayed outside no way I was getting involved. They took the names of everyone and left.”

At first, nothing came of the incident, but “the uni got in touch and said he would either have to have two hours of counselling or pay a £150 fine, so of course he took the counselling. Once it was clear he didn’t have a drug problem they just chatted about it all.” He said there were no warnings after and he got to stay in halls.

Royal Holloway

Official Policy: The college’s official statement on alcohol and drug use is quite staunch as it is against pub crawls and initiations. In terms of drugs it is treated as a criminal matter and there is a high chance from the official document that you will be expelled from halls and possibly the university.

Student experience: Ece, second year said: One of my friends got caught smoking weed in his uni accommodation toilets and nothing happened. They just said smoke it off campus.”


Official Policy: Anti-social behaviour resulting from alcohol or drug use is unacceptable and may be grounds for disciplinary action including the possibility of exclusion from the university. Students of professional occupations like Medicine would be referred to the university’s fitness to practice regulations. It is not the duty of staff to collect evidence, but any suspicion of dealing in controlled drugs on uni premises should be reported to the Security Service.

Student Experience: Zoe, a second year, said: “One of my friends got caught smoking weed and literally they only sent letters home and had to go for a disciplinary meeting.”


Official Policy: Being caught with drugs may result in the termination of your Residences Agreement. In addition, if in the reasonable opinion of the university it is appropriate to do so, it will be dealt with under their Student Disciplinary Procedure, which may depend on the seriousness of the breach, result in the student’s expulsion.

Outside of the SU was a banner that also stated the SU had a zero tolerance on drugs.

Student Experience: Tim, third year told us: “I’ve heard loads of people being caught in the SU with pills on them, I got told that they all just get banned from the SU and go elsewhere, nothing else really happens.”



Official Policy: Newcastle lifted their zero tolerance ban in 2015. Now if students are caught they, will be expelled from halls, but this may be suspended if they agree to refrain from substance abuse on Newcastle University property. It is also recommended that student visits well being and the GP.

Student Experience: Matt who has now graduated had a particularly rough experience, especially since Newcastle supposedly had a lighter approach. He said that he “was caught with a joint in halls smoking area with a friend. They brought in the police who gave us a caution. We then got a letter of disciplinary action through our doors for a meeting a day later. They had a one strike policy and kicked me out of halls. We were given four weeks to find a new place. I appealed it, and I lost but my friend won the appeal. They kicked me out and not him when he got caught with about ten times the weed I had due to his extenuating circumstances.

Matt went to say that he had to keep paying for my room in halls for the rest of the term unless he found someone to replace him. “I couldn’t afford to pay for two bits of rent and thought I would have to leave uni. Managed to get a friend of mine who lived in a flat out of halls to swap with me. Was luckily allowed back into halls to see people but wasn’t allowed to stay the night (was one of the only people this happened to).”


Official Policy: Possession and supply of drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) is against the law. Accordingly, the university undertakes to deal with students who commit such offences and who may thereby bring the university into disrepute. In addition to this, however, they recognize they have a duty of care towards its student members. It will, therefore, endeavour to provide health education and information about the dangers of illicit drug use and will refer those who need help to the appropriate support agencies.

Student Experience: Michael, first year said: “I knew one guy I knew was doing MD in the cubicles of the SU toilets. He was banned from the SU toilets for sixth months and how to help out the well-being department.”


Official Policy: The University of Nottingham Discharges its legal and disciplinary obligations in respect of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse and in respect of any related anti-social or dangerous behaviour at work. It also Prohibits illegal drug use and misuse of prescribed drugs on its premises. Provides appropriate support/referral through the Counselling Service and Occupational Health for members of its community experiencing difficulties with alcohol or drug use.

Student Experience: Jemimah, second year  knew a couple of people who got caught: “One had weed so not a lot happened they just got a warning, but the other had Class A stuff in their room and they got kicked out”

Southampton Solent

Official Policy: The policy sets out to be a positive policy that focuses much more on defining the problems associated with substance and alcohol abuse and then treating the problem from there. The university does state it must comply with the authorities, but unlike others they don’t have zero tolerance

Student Experience: Oli, third year, told us: “There was a guy who dealt to loads of students, he kept getting warned by the manage. He got arrested and they searched his room but he managed to get someone to hide all his drugs for him at their place instead. The police didn’t find anything, so he had to move halls. He did some other horrible stuff and at the new halls he moved to, there was a 12 second gap in CCTV and someone tried to stab him in that time, but they only managed to stab his hand. He was fine but haven’t heard anything about him since!”


Official Policy: The university regards alcohol and drug misuse of the first kind as first and foremost a health problem and its approach will be informed by this understanding. Other forms of drink and drug consumption which affect work will be treated as conduct or performance issues and dealt with according to the disciplinary rules and procedures of the university.

They are obliged to comply with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Under the Act it is an offence for anyone who occupies or is involved in the management of premises knowingly to allow certain activities to take place in those premises.

Student Experience: Kev, who’s also just graduated said: “In my first three weeks of uni, I was smoking weed on the balcony like a melt. One of my roommates reported the smell and the accommodations officer knocked on my bedroom door and sat me down on my bed to say it’s cool to smoke weed, just don’t be a twat and piss everyone off about it. I then swiftly changed accommodation so it didn’t ever catch up with me.”

As you can see the official policy doesn’t seem to reflect the reality, with most cases being a much lighter punishment than what is stated, which may be in line with the new, more supportive, stance universities are starting to adopt.

All official policy either originates from material on the university websites, student handbooks, or spokespeople for the university.