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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
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Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20 - Public Policy In Other Countries - Sweden

Legislative framework


Classes of drugs

The main drug legislation in Sweden is the Narcotic Drugs Criminal Act 1968. The term "narcotic drugs" is defined in section 8. They include medicinal products or substances hazardous to health with addictive properties and which are subject to control under an international agreement to which Sweden is a party or which the government has declared to be ‘narcotic drugs’ within the meaning of the Act. No distinction is made between soft and hard drugs. As will be discussed later, the nature of the substance is, however, among the criteria to determine the seriousness of an offence. Narcotic drugs are set out in five lists. List I deals with illegal drugs without medical use; lists II to IV deal with narcotic substances with medical usage and regulation of its import/export; and list V deals with narcotic substances outside international controls. Pursuant to the legislation, narcotic medicines may only be supplied on prescription from a doctor, dentist or veterinarian.



In Sweden, almost all forms of involvement with narcotics are prohibited pursuant to the Narcotic Drugs Criminal Act. This Act lists the behaviours and practices which constitute drug offences and includes possession for personal use, supply (which is fairly broadly defined), manufacture, etc. Even consumption (drug use) has been prohibited since 1988. In this case, "it is not addiction which is a criminal offence according to this law, but the act of adding a drug to the human body."[1][115] The police are entitled to conduct urine or blood tests in the case of people suspected of having used drugs.

The Smuggling Criminal Act 2000 regulates illegal import and export of drugs. Other relevant legislation includes: the Doping Criminal Act 1991 which regulates the importation, supply, possession of performance enhancing drugs for example; the Act on Prohibition of Certain Substances which are Dangerous to the Health 1999 which regulates possession and supply of substances that entail danger to life or health and are being used, or can be used, for the purpose of intoxication – this legislation does not regulate substances regulated by other Acts.

The other relevant laws are: the Social Service Act 1980, which covers the possible forms of care for drug users; the Act on the Forced Treatment of Abusers, which provides that an addict who is dangerous to himself or to others may be ordered by a court to undergo compulsory treatment (which involves deprivation of liberty for up to six months for adults and even longer for those up to the age of 20). Other legislation deals with possible expulsion from school for students who abuse drugs, revocation of a driving licence for drug addiction, etc. There is zero-tolerance with respect to driving under the influence of drugs.



Punishment is determined by rules contained in the Swedish Penal Code. There are three degrees of penalties for drug offences: minor, ordinary and serious. Penalties for minor drug offences consist of fines or up to six months’ imprisonment, for ordinary drug offences, up to three years, and for serious offences, two to ten years imprisonment. The penalties regulated under the Smuggling Criminal Act, are identical to the penalties listed above.

The seriousness of the offence is based on the nature and quantity of drugs and other circumstances. The government has stated that the term "minor drug offence" is to be reserved for the very mildest of offences. For example, it should generally only involve personal use or possession for personal use of very small amounts. In these cases, a fine may be warranted. The fine is based on the offender’s income. Minor offences involve: amphetamine up to 6 g, cannabis up to 50 g, cocaine up to 0.5 g and heroin up to 0.39 g; ordinary offences involve: amphetamine from 6.1 g to 250 g, cannabis from 51 g to 2 kg, cocaine from 0.6 g to 50 g and heroin from .04 g to 25 g; and serious offences involve: amphetamine 250 g or more, cannabis 2 kg or more, cocaine 51 g or more and heroin 25 g or more. The trafficking of drugs generally leads to imprisonment.

With respect to smuggling, the determination of the seriousness of the offence considers whether it formed part of an activity pursued on a large scale or on a commercial basis, involved particularly large quantities of drugs or was otherwise of a particularly dangerous or ruthless nature.

In 1996, of the 5,862 people sentenced for drug-related offences, 3,760 were sentenced for minor offences, 1,708 for ordinary offences and 391 for serious offences. Of the 1,274 who were sentenced to imprisonment, 54 were for minor offences, 893 for ordinary offences and 326 for serious offences.[2][116]

As in other countries, there are several alternatives to imprisonment. For example, the court can choose other sanctions including probation, conditional sentence or compulsory treatment. These sanctions appear to be used frequently in drug cases.[3][117]


Generally a drug addict who is found guilty of any type of crime can in certain circumstances be ordered to undergo detoxification treatment. Treatment can take place in conjunction with a prison sentence or else together with probation, a conditional sentence or conditional release from prison. The consent of a convicted person to undergo treatment under certain conditions may constitute a reason for ordering probation instead of imprisonment (so-called contract treatment). In practice, probation and conditional sentencing in connection with compulsory treatment are usually used for drug offences of normal severity, that is in cases where imprisonment would otherwise be imposed.[4][118]


Swedish legislation also allows for the forfeiture of any drugs used in the commission of an offence, any gains made, the property used as an aid in an offence, etc.


Prosecutorial discretion

The prosecutor has an absolute duty to prosecute, but there are a number of exceptions. In the Circular of the Prosecutor-General on Certain Questions regarding the Handling of Narcotics Cases, the Prosecutor-General stated that the dropping of prosecutions for narcotic drug offences should be limited to cases involving only possession for personal use of indivisible amounts or corresponding to at most a roll-up of cannabis resin or a dose of some stimulant of the central nervous system, with the exception of cocaine, i.e. such a small amount of a narcotic substance that it would not normally be further divided and sold. Having regard to the difficulties in individual cases of determining the magnitude of this quantity, prosecutions should go ahead in cases of doubt. If circumstances give grounds for assuming that the possession, despite the small amount, is not intended for personal use, the prosecution should not be dropped. As a consequence of these remarks, prosecutions should also not be dropped where an abuser is found in possession of narcotic drugs amounting to personal use for a certain period. In addition, it is of great importance that the dropping of prosecutions should be mainly limited to occurrences of the nature of first offences.[5][119]



[1][115]  N. Dorn and A. Jamieson, European Drug Laws: the Room for Manoeuvre, London: DrugScope, 2001, page 188.

[2][116]  Ibid., page 206.

[3][117]  Ibid., page 190.

[4][118]  Ibid., page 191.

[5][119]  European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, op. cit.

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