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Country Profile - Norway

Development of legislation
Controlled substances
Drug use and possession
Trafficking and drug-related crime
Prosecution and practice
Prevention, care and treatment
Harm reduction
Money laundering and confiscation
New developments

Norwegian Drug Legislation

The main goal of the Norwegian drug policy is a society free from drug abuse. The Norwegian drug control policy is based on a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach, in which the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation efforts balance and reciprocally reinforce the supply side and control measures.

There are no separate laws relating only to drugs in Norway. All illicit dealings with drugs are covered by the Norwegian Civil Penal Code of 22 May 1902, with the exception of the use and possession of minor quantities of drugs, which is penalised through the Act on Medicinal Products etc, of 4 December 1992, with regulations. As far as control policy is concerned, the Norwegian legislation permits the maximum penalty of 21 years of imprisonment to be applied for serious drug crimes.

The legal provisions concerning care and treatment are laid down in the Social Services Act of 13 December 1991, no 81, chapter 6 - Special Measures for Alcohol and Drug Abusers.

Controlled substances

The Civil Penal Code and the Act on Medicinal Products do not define the term "drugs". The Act on Medicinal Products no. 132 of 4. December 1992, in § 22, empowers the King to determine what substances shall be deemed to be narcotic drugs. The King has then empowered the Director of Health (as from 1 January 2001 the Norwegian Medicines Agency) who has laid down a detailed list of narcotics, cf. the Regulation relating to narcotics etc. (The Narcotics' List of 30. June 1978, no 8). Included in the national narcotic drug list are all the psychotropic substances (cf. Convention on Psychotropic Substances) and narcotic drugs (cf. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs) under international control, and in addition some substances/plants which are only under national control. Salts and derivatives of the substances listed in the national narcotic drug list, and any isomers, esters and ethers of the substances or their salts are also considered narcotic drugs.

The Regulation of 19 December 1997 concerning Certain Substances which can be used in the Illicit Manufacture of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (precursors) implements the European Directive nº 92/109 of 14 December 1992.

Drug use and possession

The legal status of use and possession of small amounts of drugs changed from misdemeanour to crime in 1984. Use and possession of such small amounts do not, however, fall under § 162 of the General Civil Penal Code, but under the more lenient provisions of the Act on Medicinal Products of 4. December 1992, no 132, § 31 second paragraph, cf. § 24. The punishment is fines or imprisonment for up to 6 months. The same applies to complicity. Attempted infringement will be punished as an accomplished offence cf. § 31, last paragraph.

It must be explained that the law divides between storage which comes under § 162 of the Civil Penal Code, and possession which falls under § 31 of the Act on Medicinal Products, cf. § 24. The purely temporary possession required for a person to use certain illegal drugs is covered by the Act on Medicinal Products, § 31, second paragraph. However, if possession has been going on for some time it will be considered as storage and punished more severely according to § 162 of the Civil Penal Code.

In cases where a person is apprehended with a considerable quantity of drugs, it is likely that such possession will be regarded as storing regardless of whether the drugs were intended for sale or just stored for personal consumption [1].

"Acquisition of drugs" falls under § 162. But if acquisition and consumption are one and the same, i e., if another person gives someone a syringe containing morphine or a pipe containing hashish, the more lenient provisions of the Act on Medicinal Products shall apply.

Trafficking and drug related crime

The Civil Penal Code § 162, first paragraph is the main provision with regard to drug felonies. It relates to anyone who intentionally (cf. § 40 of the General Civil Penal Code) "manufactures, acquires, imports, exports, stores, sends or conveys" narcotic drugs. The penalty for drug offences pursuant to 162, first paragraph is fines and/or imprisonment up to 2 years. Aggravated drug felonies, however, are punished by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years pursuant to the second paragraph of this provision. Whether an offence is to be considered aggravated will depend on a special evaluation in each case where, according to statutory provisions, special importance shall be attached to what sort of substance is involved, its quantity and the nature of the offence (i.e. if the substance has been systematically sold to groups which are considered to be especially vulnerable, such as pupils, inmates in prisons and clients in social institutions).

The third paragraph increases the penalty to a term of imprisonment of no less than three and not more than 15 years if "a very considerable quantity is involved in the offence". According to the intentions behind this provision, it shall only be applied in very exceptional cases. Under "very aggravating circumstances", a term of imprisonment not exceeding 21 years may be imposed pursuant to the second paragraph, item 2. From the legislative history behind this provision, it is clear that it was mainly intended to harm the really large organisers of international drug trafficking involving the most dangerous drugs.

Fines and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years shall punish negligent violation of §162. Complicity in a drug offence shall be punished in the same way as the main offence.

Prosecution and judicial practice

Practice shows that the penalty for drug felonies to a large extent depends on the substance and quantity involved. Involvement with cannabis (hashish) is subject to far more lenient sentencing than involvement with more dangerous substances. Also a very important issue with regard to sentencing is the nature of the involvement that the convicted felon has had with the substance. The reactions are normally considerably softer in cases involving the import and purchase of drugs intended for personal consumption than in cases where the act was motivated by profit.

In three recent court decisions (Rt. 1999, p.33 and p.1504 and the Supreme Court Ruling of 6. September 2000), the Supreme Court very strongly expresses the need to draw a distinct line between the purchase and storing of drugs intended for private consumption, and the purchase and storing of drugs intended for sale. In the Supreme Court Ruling from September 2000, the first voting justice stated that this decision, in his opinion "must be perceived as being an indication of a change of practice" compared to earlier. It may therefore seem like the Supreme Court wants to go even further than it previously has, in creating a distinction between involvement with drugs intended for private consumption and involvement with drugs intended for sale.

Scenario 1: possession of heroin for personal use by an adult offender.

Possession of heroin may be sentenced with a maximum of six months' imprisonment, ref. Section 31, second paragraph of the Act on Medicinal Products. This provision covers possession required for a person's own consumption. However, if the person is in possession of a quantity of heroin exceeding the personal dose, he may be deemed as having stored the heroin. Storing falls under Section 162 of the General Civil Penal Code, and may lead to more severe penalties, cf. above.

Scenario 2: property crime committed by a drug user to finance her/his drug addiction.

This scenario falls under the general rules in the Penal Code on theft, robbery, etc. Furthermore, the proceeds of the offence may be confiscated by applying the general rules on confiscation in Section 34 et seq in the Penal Code. There are no specific provisions regarding property crimes for the financing of drug abuse. However, in Section 317 of the Penal Code regarding the receiving of the proceeds of a criminal act, there are specific provisions that may lead to a more severe penalty if the offence is drug related.

Scenario 3: small-scale distribution of drugs by a drug user to finance her/his drug addiction.

All types of distribution of drugs are caught by Section 162 of the General Civil Penal Code. Again, the severity of the penalty depends on the drug type and the quantity.

Prevention, care and treatment

The Prison Act of 12 December 1958, no 7, section 12, allows for treatment as an alternative to carrying out a prison sentence. The decision to transfer the convicted person to a treatment institution is made by the governor of the Prison Service Institution, or in cases involving serious crimes, by the Prison Service Administration. In special cases, it may be decided that the execution of a sentence is to commence in a treatment institution. Transferral to a treatment institution as an alternative to serving the sentence in a Prison Service Institution in accordance with section 12 of the Prison Act, is voluntary.

In general, a major challenge is to maintain and reinforce negative attitudes towards drug abuse through preventive measures. Norway has recently reorganised the national drug prevention field. Under this, one significant objective is to support the ability of local communities to prevent and tackle drug abuse, and another is to strengthen the areas of research and education within the drug field. The new National Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research should be of essential value in the process of reaching this goal.

Treatment of drug addicts in Norway is predominantly based on the principles of voluntary, drug-free rehabilitation. Priority is given to meeting the different needs of different groups of addicts, for example those with children or who are pregnant. Priority is also given to the development of low threshold health services for drug addicts. The Social Services Act has legal provisions for compulsory treatment of drug addicts. From 1996 these provisions also include pregnant drug abusers, which allows for the welfare of the unborn child to be given a higher priority than the principle of voluntary rehabilitation for the mother if she herself does not fulfil the requirements for compulsory treatment. The Social Services Act in section 6-2a states that a decision can be taken that a pregnant drug or alcohol abuser shall, without her consent, enter an institution and be kept there throughout the pregnancy provided the abuse is of such a nature that it will in all probability have a harmful effect on the child, and provided voluntary assistance is not sufficient. The purpose of admission is to prevent or limit the likelihood of harm coming to the child. During her stay importance shall be given to offering the woman satisfactory help for her drug or alcohol abuse and to enabling her to take care of her child.

Harm reduction

There are no specific laws on syringe exchange or possession. Aiding and abetting a drug offence (which includes using drugs) is an offence under s.31 of the Act no. 132 of 4 June 1992 on Medicinal Products but syringe exchange schemes are not regarded in such a way, as syringes are legal goods and so obtaining and using them is not in itself illegal. In practice needle and syringe distribution is available nationwide but not in prisons. Prison officers will normally confiscate syringes and needles found among prisoners. 

Substitution programmes have their legal basis in several acts : the Social Service Act of 13 December 1991, the Municipal Health Services Act of 19 November 1982,  the Patients’ Rights to Health Care Act of 2 July 1999, the Specialist Health Care Service Act of 2 July 1999 and the LAR Regulation (medication-assisted treatment) of 18. December 2009. Guidelines (a framework consisting of regulations and guidelines (IS-1701 of 2010/2011) on opioid substitution treatment (medication-assisted treatment of heroin addicts), as laid down in the Specialist Care Service Act, entered into force on 1 January 2010. It intends to contribute to equal provision of opioid substitution treatment throughout the country, and help to integrate such treatment with the rest of the health service. It is also a goal to strengthen user participation in substitution treatment. In practice treatments with methadone and buprenorphine are available in Norway, even in prisons. Treatment must start in a substitution treatment centre. The patient general practitioner and the social services can, in cooperation, refer to substitution treatment (the application must include a statement from the patient’s doctor and an overall treatment plan). A substitution treatment centre must approve the application and admit the patient. Secondly, doctors can prescribe, but must be sure that the patient is in a treatment program approved by the Government (the patient must be approved for substitution treatment by a substitution treatment centre). The age limit no longer applies since 1 January 2010 (within the new legal framework), but before someone is offered substitution treatment, an assessment must always be carried out of whether the patient will benefit from treatment without opioid substitution treatment medication ; this applies in particular to young patients. The substitution treatment starts in a substitution treatment centre. After the abusers are discharged from the centre, they continue to take the remedy. The practice is varying, but often the abuser can get prescriptions from his/her doctor, and then get the remedy at the pharmacy. There, they must take the remedy while watched by an employee. After several negative urine analyses, the patient will be allowed to take several doses back home, and take them unguarded. Opioid substitution treatment is available in prisons.

Injection rooms have been introduced with the Temporary Act no. 64 of 2 July 2004 relating to a Trial Scheme of Drug Injection Rooms, exempting users of an injection room from the punishment for the possession and use of a single user dose of drugs. The Act enabled the implementation of a three-year trial scheme subjected to evaluation. In June 2009, the Norwegian Parliament decided to make the temporary Act relating to injection rooms permanent. Based on local needs, the individual municipalities can decide whether they wish to establish an injection room scheme. The legislative amendments with pertaining regulations entered into force on 17 December 2009.  The target group consists of hardcore drug addicts over 18 years of age, and the injection rooms will be staffed by quality health and social work personnel. The freedom for prosecution in injection rooms only applies to heroin. Municipal schemes for injection room are subject to approval. In practice, a drug injecting room in the centre of Oslo, established under a temporary act as a trial in 2004 and operational from February 2005, has been made permanent in 2009.


The precursor regulation was issued in 1997, pursuant to the Act of 4 December 1992 on Medical Products etc, and it implements the European Directive 92/109, as amended. The regulation has not undergone major revision since it was issued. It aims to ensure control with the import, export, transit, manufacturing, receipt, possession, handling and trafficking of certain substances that can be used in the illegal manufacturing of narcotics and psychotropic substances, in order to prevent the spreading of such substances. The Medicines Agency is responsible for precursor control, and all handling of precursors requires authorisation from the Agency. Failure to comply with the regulation can result in withdrawal of authorisation and punishment according to the penalty provisions set forth in the Act on Medical Products Section 31 (fines and/or prison for up to 3 months).

Money laundering and confiscation

In 1988, a decision was made to include a new § 162a relating to the receiving of proceeds of a drug felony. The objective of this provision was to harm the economic interests that exist in drug trafficking. However, this provision was repealed in 1993, and was replaced by § 317 of the General Civil Penal Code, which was formulated in such general terms that the receiving of the proceeds of a criminal act relating to drug trafficking, for instance involving the laundering of drug money, also falls under this provision.

The fourth paragraph of § 317, however, still prescribes a special penalty scale for the intentional involvement with the proceeds of a drug offence. Under very aggravating circumstances a term of imprisonment of up to 21 years may be imposed, whereas a penalty of fines and/or imprisonment of a term not exceeding three years shall be imposed when a crime relating to the proceeds of a criminal act is of a more general nature. Aggravated offences shall be punished in accordance with the third paragraph, wherein a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 years is prescribed, while if the offence is committed by negligence, fines or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years may be imposed in accordance with the fifth paragraph.

New developments

Since the conclusion in 1997 of a pilot methadone project involving 50 clients, the number of clients receiving substitution treatment has been increased dramatically, and is estimated at 1100 for the year 2001. The question of establishing injecting rooms is currently under public debate in Norway.


"Lovdata" is a private foundation, established by the Ministry of Justice and the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo. The purpose of Lovdata is to establish and operate legal information systems on a non-profit basis. All statutes and regulations in force are continually consolidated (Norwegian).
Web-site address (English): http://www.lovdata.no/info/lawdata.html


Text revised by Ms Merethe Rein

  • Ministry of Health and Social Affairs,
  • Ministry of Justice,
  • Medicines Agency.



1. cf. the Proposition to the Odelsting no. 23 (1983-84) pp.14-15 and p.28. (back)

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Page last updated: Monday, 19 March 2012