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Country Profile - Sweden

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

Development of Legislation

The main Swedish law regulating narcotic drugs offences is the Narcotic Drugs Punishments Act (1968:64). It concerns the unlawful provision of narcotics; manufacture, acquisition, supply, etc. Since 1988 the consumption of narcotics per se has been a punishable offence while drug trafficking is regulated by the Law on Penalties for Smuggling (2000:1225). Another law that criminalises unlawful handling of narcotic drugs is the Act on Control of Narcotic Drugs (1992:860). According to this law, the breach of certain rules on the legal handling of drugs, as specified in this Act, may be punishable in accordance with the criminal provisions of the Act even if it does not constitute a narcotic drug offence or smuggling. Finally, it is worth mentioning two criminal laws which do not concern narcotic drugs stricto sensu, but criminalise behaviour similar to misuse and trafficking of narcotics and often are discussed together with narcotic drug offences. These are the Doping Criminal Act (1991:1969), and the Act on Prohibition of Certain Substances which are Dangerous to the Health (1999:42), i.e. the substances which because of their inherent properties are a hazard to human life or health, or which are used or can be presumed to be used for the purpose of achieving intoxication or other effects. There are also a number of relevant laws outside the criminal law area: the Social Service Act (2001:453) which covers the possible forms of care for drug users; the Act on the Treatment of Drug Misusers (1988:870) covering compulsory institutional care; and the Care of Young Persons Special Provisions Act (1990:52) which makes it possible to arrange compulsory care of juveniles on the ground of drug misuse.

Controlled substances

The term "narcotic drugs" is defined in Section 8 of the Narcotic Drugs Punishments Act (1968:64). Under this provision, narcotic drugs are considered to be medicines or substances hazardous to health with addictive properties, or inducing a state of euphoria, which the Government has declared to be 'narcotic drugs' within the meaning of the Act. In Sweden, no distinction is made between narcotic preparations as such and psychotropic substances.

Drug use and possession

The Narcotic Drugs Punishments Act (1968:64) lists the behaviours and practices which constitute drug crimes: to pass on narcotic drugs; manufacture narcotic drugs intended for abuse; acquire drugs for the purpose of passing them on; procure, process, package, transport, store or in any other way, handle narcotic drugs not intended for personal use; offer narcotic drugs for sale, keep or mediate payment for narcotic drugs, arrange contacts between vendors and purchasers or take any other such action if the conduct is conducive to the furtherance of trade in narcotics; possess, use or have any other involvement with narcotic drugs. Each of these actions can constitute a drugs crime which is punished according to 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 for drug trafficking offences, regulated in the Law on Penalties for Smuggling (2000:1225), are identical with the penalties provided in the Narcotic Drugs Punishments Act.

An offence could be considered as minor with respect to the nature and quantity of drugs and other circumstances. In 1993 the government stated that the term "minor drug offence" should be reserved for the very mildest of offences. The government also decided that special consideration should be given to the type of drug-related activity in question; a minor offence should only involve personal use or possession for personal use. If drugs were passed on or if drugs were in the offender's possession for the purpose of passing them on, the minor offence concept should be excluded in principle. The only possible exception to this should be if very small amounts were passed on, corresponding to just one scrap of cannabis resin or the like within a closed circle of abusers (prop. 1992/93:142 p. 16 f).

In Sweden, there are several alternatives to a prison sentence. If the sanction goes beyond a fine, the court may pass a suspended sentence or make a probation order instead of sentencing the offender to imprisonment, where this is appropriate and certain conditions have been met. However, for the most serious crimes, it is only possible to sentence the offender to imprisonment or to treatment. A suspended sentence (which is not possible if the offender has social problems) or probation order can subsequently be draw up in various ways. In fixing the sentence, the court must pay careful attention to any circumstances that warrant more lenient sentence than imprisonment. Both a suspended sentence and a probation order are considered more lenient than imprisonment.

Trafficking and drug related crime

Other crimes are considered as either ordinary drug offences or serious offences. In assessing whether the offence qualifies as serious, special consideration must be given to 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. The assessment must be based on a weighing up of all the circumstances of the individual case.

Prosecution and judicial practice

The prosecutor has an absolute duty to prosecute. This means that the prosecutor must initiate proceedings for the prosecution of an offence, when he or she can foresee a conviction. This is a principal rule to which there are exceptions. Under certain conditions the prosecutor has a possibility to discontinue an investigation or to waive prosecution. It is important to state however that for drug offences, this possibility is limited to exceptional cases and in practice only in relation to minor offences. In 2000, the prosecutors in Sweden handled 29 636 cases of suspected drug offences. In 24 974 cases (84%), the offences consisted of possession and/or use per se, whereas 4 662 (16%) concerned drug trafficking.

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

Any person who unlawfully possesses or uses drugs shall be sentenced for a drug offence to imprisonment for not more than three years. If, having regard to the nature and the quantity of drugs involved and other circumstances, the offence is judged to be minor, a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months shall be imposed. If the possession of heroin is more than 10 grams it is presumed that the person also uses the drug for supply. An offence is, almost without exception, only judged to be minor if the amount of heroin is less than 0.05 gram. In all cases where imprisonment is a possible outcome it is possible to sentence the person to probation if certain conditions are fulfilled. In choosing a sanction, the court shall, as a reason for imposing probation, give consideration to whether such a sanction can contribute to the accused refraining from continued criminality. As special ground for probation, the court may in this case consider whether the misuse of drugs contributed to the commission of the crime, and whether the accused declares himself willing to undertake treatment in accordance with a personal plan that can be realised in conjunction with the implementation of the sanction.

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

The person can be sentenced for theft to imprisonment for at most two years. If the theft, having regard to the value of the stolen goods and other circumstances of the crime, is regarded as minor, a fine or imprisonment for at most six months shall be imposed for petty theft. If the theft is considered to be major, imprisonment for at least six months and at most six years shall be imposed for gross theft. If the court, when deciding on which sanction to impose, estimates that possible sentence would be less than 1 year of imprisonment, the defendant may instead be sentenced to a conditional sentence, when there is no reason to fear that the accused will again commit such a crime. As special grounds for probation, the court may consider whether the misuse of drugs contributed to the commission of the crime, and whether the accused declares himself willing to undertake treatment in accordance with a personal plan that can be realised in conjunction with the implementation of the sanction (in this case probation may be used even if the possible sentence exceeds one year of imprisonment, but is not more than two years).

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

Penalties for such illegal activity are established as up to three years imprisonment. There is normally no possibility to consider supply as a minor drug offence. The length of the imprisonment imposed depends mainly on the amount of the drug the accused has offered for sale. As in Scenarios 1 and 2, instead of imprisonment it is possible to sentence the accused to probation if such a sanction can contribute to the accused refraining from continued criminality, and the misuse of drugs contributed to the commission of the crime, and the accused declares himself willing to undertake treatment in accordance with a personal plan that can be realised in conjunction with the implementation of the sanction.

Prevention, care and treatment

The National Board of Health and Welfare is the central administrative authority for activities in the fields of social services and health and medical care and for other activities in the medical field, as well as for questions relating to substances abused, to the extent that these are not covered by the responsibilities of any other State body. According to the Narcotic Drug Controls Act (1992:860), narcotic medicines may only be supplied on prescription from a doctor, dentist or veterinarian. Such medicines must be prescribed with the utmost caution. Methadone maintenance treatment has been practised as a method of treatment for persons with intravenous opiate abuse in Sweden since the end of the 1960s. Treatment with methadone is currently given at units in the field of general psychiatry in Uppsala, Stockholm, Lund and Malmö.

For the methadone programme, strict criteria are laid down which must be met before treatment is commenced. The patient must have a minimum of four years' documented intravenous opiate abuse and have tried drug-free treatment and be aged over 20; there must be indications showing that advanced mixed abuse is not present, and the person in question must have an acceptable situation as regards freedom of choice, i.e. he must not be detained, under arrest, sentenced to a term of imprisonment or be an inmate of a correctional facility. Under the Regulations (SOSFS 1999:20) of the National Board of Health and Welfare amending the Regulations (SOSFS 1990:16) on Methadone Maintenance and Prescription of Opiates on an Indication of Addiction, the Board has ruled that, until further notice, the national methadone programme may cover a maximum of 800 patients.
Compulsory treatment is available and applies especially to juvenile drug addicts. In 1999, the number of juveniles subjected to treatment was 260.

Since 1998 persons with drug addiction problems who have committed a drug offence can be sentenced to treatment according to a 'treatment contract'. It is a real contract between the drug addict and the Municipality in which the two parties have rights and obligations. However, certain conditions must be fulfilled by the drug addict: the person must need treatment and he must be motivated to undergo treatment; he/she must be a misuser of drugs; and the drug habit must have contributed to the drugs crime, which should not be serious (less than 2 years imprisonment foreseen as penalty). The person is not sent to prison and a personal plan of treatment is established. The social authorities are responsible for the treatment and shall report to, among others, the local authority for probation and the public prosecutor if the probationer seriously neglects the obligations stated in the personal plan.

Harm reduction

As of 2006, the Swedish Government introduced a law which in effect allows each of the 21 regions in Sweden to introduce needle exchange programmes. The Act SFS 2006:323, come into force on 1 July 2006, foresees in fact the possibility for the county councils to start injecting equipment exchange programmes. The activity must not be performed without the permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW). The distribution is limited to persons aged 20 and residents in a county authorized to participate to needle exchange activities. The National Board of Health and Welfare presented the new regulations concerning needle exchange in February 2007. They address the procedures for county councils to follow in order to establish a NSP, including a justification of need (e.g. estimation of number of potential service users); an assessment of available resources; and a provision plan for complementary and additional care services (e.g. detox, drug treatment and aftercare). They stipulate the obligation for NSPs to inform clients about injecting risks, to offer additional services including infectious diseases testing and vaccinations, and define further quality management rules for the implementation of such services.  In practice, until summer 2008, no needle exchange programmes have been established in addition to the two programmes already in place in southern Sweden (Lund since 1986 and Malmö since 1987).  Such programmes are not available in Swedish prisons.

Substitution treatment is permitted under general health laws, but in order to use medical substitution substances classified as narcotic drugs/psychotropic substances the treatment must be given in a treatment centre and in compliance with the National Board of Health and Welfare’s Code of Statutes SOSFS 2009:27. Substances used in substitution treatment are methadone, buprenophine and naltrexone. According to Medical Products Agency´s Code of Statutes LVFS 2004:15 (Läkemedelsverkets föreskrifter om förordnande och utlämnande av narkotikaklassade läkemedel för behandling av opiatberoende), doctors with specialized knowledge in psychiatric illnesses and practising medicine at a treatment centre in compliance with the National Board of Health and Welfare´s Code of Statutes can prescribe substitution treatments (the doctor may in some cases and for a limited period delegate the possibility to prescribe). Pursuant to The National Board of Health and Welfare`s Code of Statutes SOSFS 2009:27, the patient must be 20 years old to undergo a substitution treatment and he or she must have had an established opioid dependence for at least one year. Where there are extraordinary reasons a person under 20 years old may be permitted to undergo a substitution treatment. According to the aforementioned Code of Statutes, when the treatment has been stable for at least 6 months and the physician get the opinion that there is no risk that the patient transfer the drug to someone else, the patient may handle the drugs him- or herself.


Many crimes connected with precursors may be regarded as attempt, preparation, aiding or conspiracy to commit a narcotic drug offence and as such punishable according to section 4 in the Narcotic Drugs Criminal Act compared with chapter 23 in the penal Code (1962:700). Depending on the graveness of the crime and if the crime is an attempt, preparation, aiding or conspiracy the punishment may be day-fines or up to ten years of imprisonment.

To unlawfully import into or export precursors from Sweden may be a smuggling offence by the Law on Penalties for Smuggling (2000:1225). The punishment is day-fines or up to six years imprisonment.

Even if an act is not punishable by the Narcotic Drugs Criminal Act or by the Law on Penalties for Smuggling, it may be punishable by section 13 in the Act on the Control of Narcotic Drugs (1992:860). That may for example be the case when documentation, labelling and record-keeping has not been fulfilled. The punishment may be day-fines or up to one years imprisonment.

The Government has in the Ordinance on the Control of Narcotic Drugs (1992:1554) announced what chemicals are to be considered as precursors (see annex 2 to the ordinance).

The Medical Products Agency issue, by section 8 in the Ordinance on the Control of Narcotic Drugs (1992:1554), permits for manufacturing etc. of precursors.

Money laundering and confiscation

The EC Directive 308/91 was transposed into the Swedish legal system by the Act (1993:768) on Measures against Money Laundering, which came into force on 1 January 1994. The Money Laundering Act covers enterprises regulated by the Financial Supervisory Authority, involved in banking business, life assurance business, securities transactions, activities covered by the Act on Credit Market Companies, the Insurance Brokers Act, and the Currency Exchange and Money Transmission Act. The companies subject to the rules are obliged in certain cases specified in the Act to carry out identity checks and to examine all transactions which reasonably can be supposed to constitute money laundering. If there is suspicion of money laundering, the case must be reported to the Financial Crime Investigation Service of the National Police Board.

The Act imposes an absolute ban on companies covered by the Act contributing to transactions in which money laundering may be suspected. There are no sanctions against companies covered by the obligation to report if they have breached the provisions of the Act. On the other hand, any person who with intent or by gross negligence fails to honour, amongst other things, the duty to examine or to report suspicions will be liable to a fine. Moreover, any person who on a professional basis trades in antiquities, art, precious stones, metals, scrap or engages himself in means of transport, or in agency business involving real estate or owner-occupied apartments, or in lottery and gaming activities, must supply information at the request of the National Police Board or the authority appointed by the Government for the purpose which the authority may consider to be of relevance in the investigation of money laundering.

On the other hand, penal sanctions may be imposed in the normal way on any person who contributes to crimes that generate criminal gains; for example, handling or receiving stolen goods, narcotics offences and goods smuggling or financial crime. On 1 July 2000, a new offence was introduced, that of handling (or receiving) unlawful money. The offence of handling (or receiving) unlawful money is punishable according to Chapter 9, Sections 6a and 7a, of the Penal Code (prop. 1998/99:19, bet. JuU8, rskr. 134).


The full database of Swedish legislation can be found at


Text revised by Mrs. Angela Öst

  • National Institute of Public Health Stockholm, Reitox National Reports 1996 - 2000;
  • Study on the legislation and regulations on drug trafficking in the European Union Member States; European Commission, 2001
  • Report on Swedish Legislation, 2000




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Page last updated: Monday, 19 March 2012