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Legal topic overviews: penalties for illegal drug trafficking

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What we have here called 'trafficking' offences may include production or cultivation, import and export, transporting, offering, selling and/or possession, with intent to distribute or supply, or the concept of acting 'for gain' or 'on a commercial basis'. Therefore, we have not included production or cultivation for personal use. Various aggravating factors in the offence may include the involvement of large quantities, drugs considered very dangerous to health, the aim to make substantial profit, involvement of (organised) groups or gangs, abuse of position by a professional person, or recidivism.

Selling drugs to acquire money to finance a drug habit is a recognised behaviour among drug users and is considered an offence in all EU Member States. In some, these 'user-dealers' or 'addict-pushers' occupy a middle ground between the serious offence of drug distribution and the more medical problem of drug addiction. As such, they may be specifically identified in national laws – if not, it is usual for the judge to take this situation into account when sentencing. Addiction is seen as a mitigating circumstance, but on the other hand the type and quantity of the drug sold or distributed, and recidivism, may be seen as aggravating factors. In general, selling drugs is always prosecuted, but wide ranges are prescribed for sentencing.

At European level, following the conclusions of the 1999 Tampere European Council that called on the Member States to adopt additional legal provisions to combat trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the Council adopted in October 2004 a Framework-Decision laying down minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking (see below).

Table: EU Framework-Decision laying down minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking
Penalties (imprisonment) Legal basis User-dealers

Maximum of at least 1-3 years.

When there are large quantities of drugs, OR involvement of drugs which cause the most harm to health or has resulted in significant damage to the health of a number of persons: maximum of at least 5-10 years.

If committed within the framework of a criminal organisation: maximum of at least 10 years.

When precursors are involved, and the offence is committed within the framework of a criminal organisation or intended to be used for production or manufacture of drugs: maximum of at least 5-10 years.

Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA of 25 October 2004, Arts 4-5.

Penalties may be reduced if the offender:

renounces criminal activity relating to trafficking in drugs and precursors; provides authorities with information helping to prevent or mitigate the effects of the offence, or to identify or bring to justice the other offenders, to find evidence, or to prevent further offences.

The implementation of this Framework Decision was evaluated in 2009 by the European Commisson in its Report COM(2009) 669. It concluded 'Implementation of the Framework Decision has not been completely satisfactory… There has thus been little progress in the alignment of national measures in the fight against drug trafficking'.

The following table shows the penalties foreseen in, and the most common judicial practices applied by, the EU Member States.

Country Penalties (imprisonment) Legal basis User-dealers
Austria

Narcotics:

Possession or purchase; up to 3 years.

Production, import, export, circulation; up to 5 years;
Acting commercially or as a member of a gang; 1-10 years;
Member of a drug trafficking gang or cases involving 25 times more than the 'large quantity; 1-15 years;
Leader of a drug-trafficking organisation; 10-20 years.

Psychotropic Substances:

Possession or purchase; up to 2 years

Production, import, export, circulation;up to 5 years

SMG S.28, 30

S.28(3) sets a lower penalty range (up to 5 years instead of 1-10 years) for those, acting commercially or as a member of a gang, dependent on narcotics who commit the offence primarily to obtain the substance or the means to buy it.

Belgium

3 months – 5 years and fine of €1000-100 000.

5–10, 10–15, 15–20 years with aggravating circumstances (degrees of involvement of minors, injury or death, or criminal organisations).

Law 24 Feb 1921, Art.2

Art.9 of the same law permits suspension of penalty or probation if drugs are sold with the aim to help that person’s drug use, provided there are no aggravating circumstances.

Croatia

Possession with the aim to sell: 1-12 years imprisonment.
Any form of actual supply (production, sale, distribution): 3-15 years imprisonment.
When the offender is part of a group or criminal organization: up to life.

Criminal Code, Article 173

Opportunity principle is applied for less serious criminal offences related to dealing of small quantities. This requires the offender's consent and readiness to undergo drug rehabilitation or other activities.

Cyprus

Up to life for a class A or B substance, up to 8 years for a class C substance.

Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances law of 1977, ss.4, 5, 7

Trafficking as such is not defined but as it involves other offences (possession, sale), prosecution follows. The court takes into account the personal circumstances of the accused when sentencing.

Czech Republic

Basic: 1-5 years.

2–10, 8–12, 10–18 years in case of aggravating circumstances, eg involvement of minors, larger/ significant/ large scale of act/benefit, injury or death, or (international) criminal organisations.

Penal Code s.283

The court takes into account whether the person dealt drugs in order to finance his/her addiction or with an intention to gain profit ('a professional dealer').

Denmark

Small quantities: Up to 2 years.

Larger quantities:

Soft drugs, e.g. cannabis: up to 10 years;

Hard drugs, e.g. heroin and cocaine: up to 16 years.

No minimum penalties applied.

Euphoriant Substances Executive Order 1993 s.27, cf. Law on Euphoriant Substances s. 3 and

Criminal Code s.191

Danish legislation makes no distinction between traffickers and addict-pushers.

Estonia

Illegal trafficking or mediation of small quantities: fine or up to 3 years; if repeated, or by group: fine or up to 5 years.

Trafficking of large quantities: 1-10 years. If repeated, or by group: 3-15 years. For the purpose of large gain, or by criminal organisation: 6-20 years or life.

Illicit import/export: fine or up to 5 years;

by a public official abusing his position, or by group: 2-10 years.

Penal Code ss.183, 184, 392

Trafficking of small quantities may be punished by a fine or up to 3 years, but the law here does not distinguish between the motives of addiction or profit.

France

Up to 10 years and up to €7 500 000 fine. In case of particularly serious offences penalties can go up to life imprisonment.
As customs offence (contraband and similar offences): maximum three-year sentence and fines equalling one to two times the value of the illegal merchandise (value is estimated using underground market prices). The sentence can be 10 years in case of organised crime. Customs prosecutions do not exclude penal prosecution and customs fines may be added to the penal sanctions.

Penal Code, art. 222-36 and 222-37 for misdemeanor offenses.
Penal Code, art 222-34 and 222-35 for criminal offenses.
Customs Code, art. 414

Penalties less severe when supply is destined to personal consumption (art.222-39 new Penal Code). Jurisprudence shows that this softer provision is only in fact applied when the dealer is himself a user.

Germany

Basic penalties: up to 5 years or fine.

Penalties in particularly serious cases:

a) 1-15 years for actions on a commercial basis; danger for health of several persons; involving minors; trade in significant quantities.

b) 2-15 years for involvement of gangs; involving minors on a commercial basis; causing death; import of significant quantities.

c) 5-15 years: several of the above circumstances combined

Narcotics Act, ss. 29(1); 29(3), 29a, 30, 30a, 30b; Penal Code ss. 12, 38

There is no difference in penalties in German law between traffickers and addict-pushers. But if a convicted person is addicted and if he/she is willing to undergo treatment for his/her addiction, the execution of a sentence can be postponed (s. 35 BtMG)

Greece

Non-addicted users supplying drugs to other users; 6 months - 5 years.
Basic: at least 10 years.

Cases involving public officials or places where minors may be: at least 15 years.

Recidivists, professionals, or those who use weapons: life.

Law 3459/2006 Arts. 29(4) (users), 20(1) (basic), 21 (aggravating circumstances), 23.

Trafficking by an addict is a misdemeanour punished by at least 1 year (Art 30(4)(b)). With aggravating circumstances it is a felony, with up to 10 years (Art 30(4)(c))

Hungary

Basic; 2-8 years.

If committed by public official, or as part of criminal conspiracy, or in military/ police/ prison premises; 5-10 years.

If a substantial quantity; 5-15 years or life.

Penal Code s.282/A

Various legal provisions in the Penal Code take into account the involvement of addicts and small quantities to provide lower sentencing ranges.

Ireland

District Court: up to 1 year and/or fine;
Circuit Criminal Court: up to life.

If value of drugs is over €13 000: minimum 10 years (can be waived in exceptional circumstances).

Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 s.15a, s.27 (amended 1984)

No distinction is made between addict-pushers and traffickers.

Latvia

Manufacture, acquisition, storage, transport and conveyance:

Basic; up to 5 years.

If repeated; 5-10 years

If for the purpose of sale:

Basic; 5-10 years

If repeated; 5-12 years.

If by organised group; 8-15 years.

Criminal Code s.253, if for sale s.253.1

There is no separate legal attitude to user dealers.

Lithuania

Basic; 2-8 years.

Large amount; 8-10 years.

Very large amount; 10-15 years.

Penal Code, Art.260

Users engaging in trafficking are subject to the same penalties as non-using traffickers.

Luxembourg

Basic; 1-5 years.

In respect of a minor, or causing serious injury; 5-10 years.

If in association, or causing death; 15-20 years (or life if a minor is involved).

Law of 19 Feb 1973, as amended, Arts. 8-10

Users engaging in trafficking are subject to the same penalties as non-using traffickers. Users selling small amounts receive less severe penalties.

Netherlands

Importing and exporting:

list I substances; up to 12 years and/or fine of € 67 000

list II substances; up to 6 years and/or fine of € 67 000 for large quantities (500 gr cannabis, 200 cannabis plants or 500g of another list II drug); or up to 4 years for intentional smuggling not for personal use).

Selling or supplying:

list I substances; up to 8 years and/or fine of € 67 000

list II substances; up to 2 years and/or fine (or up to 6 years and/or fine of €67 000 if for business).

Opium Act, Arts.10-11

 
Norway

Felony; up to 2 years.

Aggravated felony; up to 10 years.

If a very considerable quantity: 3-15 years.

Under especially aggravating circumstances; up to 21 years.

Penal Code s.162

 
Poland

For import, export or transit: 5 years. If aim of obtaining benefit; minimum 3 years.

For introduction into circulation or participation in such circulation: 6mth-8 years. If lesser gravity, 1 year or fine. If considerable quantity; 1-10 years.

Supply or incitement; 3 years. If to a minor, or involving a considerable quantity; 5 years.

Supply to another person, facilitating or inciting use with the objective of obtaining benefit; 1-10 years. If minor involved, minimum 3 years. If lesser gravity, 2 years or fine.

Law of 1997 on Counteracting Drug Addiction, Arts.42, 43, 46

There is no legal distinction between drug dealer and user-dealer. However, the situation when a person sells drugs in order to fund his/her addiction may be recognised as an offence of lesser gravity. Nevertheless, it depends strictly on the particular circumstances in each individual case, which it is the sole competence of the court to decide.

Portugal

Basic:
4-12 years (lists I to III);
1-5 years (list IV).

Minimum and maximum penalties for trafficking are increased by one-quarter in various aggravating circumstances.

10-25 years for anyone with criminal associations;
12-25 years for anyone who heads or leads a group or criminal organisation.

For minor trafficking offences:
1-5 years (lists I to III, V, VI);
2 years' detention or up to 240 day-fines (list IV).

Decree-Law 15/93, Arts.21, 24-26

Under Art.26, trafficker-users are punished by imprisonment according to the circumstances and the different lists:
lists I, II, III, up to three years;
list IV, up to one year or 120 day-fines.
The offender is considered a trafficker-user when the quantity exceeds ten normal daily doses.

Slovenia

Basic: 1-10 years.

If more than one person is involved: at least 3 years.

Penal Code Art. 196

In judicial practice, there is a strong distinction between users and dealers with regard to penalties. The Penal Code envisages a safety measure of obligatory treatment for drug users or addicts (Article 62).

Slovak Republic

Basic: 4-10 years.

If larger amount (with a street value of over 10 times the "baseline" amount of 8000 Skk/ approx €200), or recidivist, or against a protected person: 10-15 years

If on a considerable scale (more than 100 times), or causing grievous harm or death, or against a person aged under 15: 15-20 years.

If on a large scale (more than 500 times), causing multiple harm/deaths, or as a criminal group: 20-25 years, or life.

Penal Code,  s.172, s.135 

The Penal Code contains provisions which regulates imposition of protective treatment, in cases of commission of any offence under the influence of a narcotic substance   

Spain

Basic penalties:
In cases of drugs causing serious damage to health; 3-9 years and fine.

In other cases; 1-3 years and fine.

More serious penalties can be awarded in a number of aggravating circumstances

Penal Code Art.368-70 and 376

Organic Law 15/2003

Extenuating circumstances of penal responsibility can be applied to drug dealers that are addicts as well. Also, if there are small amounts of drugs involved and a treatment is finished successfully, penalty is reduced in 1 or 2 grades.

Sweden

Ordinary: up to 3 years.

Aggravating circumstances:
2-10 years.

Multiple offences or recidivism:
up to 18 years.

Narcotic Drugs (Punishments) Act, s.1-3

A minor drug offence, looking at all the circumstances of the particular case, may be punished by fine or imprisonment of up to 6 mths.

United Kingdom

: up to life imprisonment;
Class B: up to 14 years;
Class C: up to 14 years (on indictment).

There is a minimum sentence of 7 years for a third conviction of trafficking Class A drugs, unless the court considers it to be unjust.

Misuse of Drugs Act s.4 / Schedule 4

The court has discretion to look at all circumstances of the case when sentencing.

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Page last updated: Thursday, 26 January 2012