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Country Profile - Greece

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

Development of legislation

The main law concerning the control and prohibition of narcotic drugs in Greece was adopted in 1987, law nº 1729/87. Its main philosophy was the consideration of the drug addict as a "patient" instead of as a criminal, dividing between drug addicts and non addicts as the threshold for prosecution rules. The law addressed all aspects of the problem (repression, therapy, rehabilitation, research and prevention). In the following years several amendments have been adopted.

In 1993 a new law nº 2161/93 introduced even more severe penalties for trafficking, and for doctors and pharmacists who do not follow the rules for drug prescription. The penalisation of trafficking in precursor substances was also introduced. The amendment in 1995, law nº 2331/95, placed particular emphasis on therapy, introducing the postponement of the penal prosecution for drug law offenders provided that they have undertaken a therapeutic programme at the time their cases arrive to the prosecutor or judge. Another provision permits the permanent suspension of prosecution following successful completion of treatment.

In 1996 another amendment, law nº 2408/96, introduced more lenient prosecution for drug users caught in possession of drugs (art.4). In 1997 the law 2479/97 modifying certain aspects of the law nº 2408/96 reintroduced a class of drug dealer as 'especially dangerous', envisaging lifetime imprisonment for recidivist drug traffickers, or for dealing using minors or to minors (art.8).

In 1999 a new law introduced provisions to attribute a more lenient prosecution to drug users in case of trafficking of small amounts as a reason for their personal use: law nº 2721/99.130

Controlled Substances

As far as prosecution of drug offences is concerned, Greek legislation establishes four categories of controlled substances. The law allows for differences among controlled substances when sentencing, as confirmed by art.14 of the law nº 2161/93: "(…) At the determination of the sentence, the degree of noxiousness of each narcotic substance and in particular the category in which it belongs is taken into consideration", implying that a distinction on the nature of the substances can be made by judicial authorities. In practice heroin is often considered as a very dangerous drug, while others substances are considered as less dangerous.

Drug use and possession

Law 1987 (art.12) and amendments establish that "any person who for his own exclusive use, obtains or possess whatsoever drugs in small quantity, or makes use of them,.. is punished with imprisonment.' When punishing drug use and possession for use Greek law introduces a major criterion: the state of addiction of the person. Arrested users are in fact distinguished by two categories: addicts and not addicts.

Non addicts arrested for possession or making use of a very small quantity of drugs can be arrested and sentenced from 10 days to 5 years and/or a fine. At their first offence they have to follow a counselling programme as alternative to a prison sentence. Drug addicts receive a more lenient treatment due to the fact that the Greek legal system considers the addiction as the dominant cause of the drug related offence. Therefore, drug addicts arrested for use or possession for personal use are declared non punishable, when the finality of the act, personal use, is recognised by the prosecutor. The person will be then invited to follow a therapeutic programme. In practice, treatment facilities for drug offenders sent by courts are not available so the person will be released. Drug addicts will face the strongest penalties in cases of possession of quantities that go beyond those considered as for personal use: from 1 to 5 years, and up to 10 years when some form of traffic is involved.

The law (art.14 law nº 2161/93) has established that the limit of each quantity of each narcotic substance considered as covering the need of a drug addict for a definite time period, is determined by the health authority. However, the limits have not been established and discretion is left to the judicial authority to fix limits denoting small and large quantities of drugs.

Trafficking and drug related crime

Due to its geographic position Greece plays a central role in the fight against drug traffic through the Balkan route from Turkey via the Greek islands. Drug traffic is not defined in Greek law as such. Transport, sale, and production are the offences that can be associated with the concept of drugs traffic, where the penalties envisaged are among the heaviest in Europe.

The Greek penal code foresees life in prison when the illicit traffic is carried out in the framework of a criminal organization. The basic penalty for illicit drug traffic is a prison term of at least 10 years and a fine. The law foresees some 'special cases' such as introducing drugs into a school which are punished with at least 15 years of imprisonment and a fine. Recidivism or acting professionally will attract penalties up to perpetuity.

Concerning trafficking in small amounts by drug users (user-dealers), a new amendment to the law 1729/87 has been adopted in 1999 (law nº 2721/99). It provides for a more lenient judicial treatment for drug users trafficking in small amounts. If it is proven that personal use was the main cause for the infringement of the law, the person might receive a sentence of minimum 6 months imprisonment, instead of a term of imprisonment up to 10 years, that could be either exchanged for a fine or suspended. Moreover, the same law introduces similar 'facilitations' in case of acquisitive crimes, with no violence, committed by drug users to finance their own addiction.

Prosecution and judicial practice

Under the Greek legal system, the police do not have the discretionary power to dismiss a case or to handle it in alternative ways. In cases of minor offences the Greek police have the discretionary power not to refer an offender to the public prosecutor and settle the case at the Police Station (art. 14, L. 1481/84). However, drugs offences are not included in such cases (e.g. public nuisance) and they must always end up in prosecution. The public prosecutor, after receiving a police report on the offence, is obliged to prosecute having no discretionary power not to prosecute.

The prosecution can be initiated by a "summary" investigation, to be conducted either by a magistrate or by a police officer (misdemeanour); by an "ordinary" investigation that is conducted by an ordinary judge (felony case); or by transmitting the case directly to court. This latter procedure is applied in cases of petty violations, of misdemeanours of minor importance, where the facts are clearly proven, and of misdemeanours when the offender is apprehended on the facts.

In relation to illegal use/possession of drugs, the chances of non-punishment (No Further Actions) are enhanced when it is a less dangerous drug. Exchange of small quantities of drugs between users proven to be exclusively for personal use is considered as misdemeanour since 1999 according  art. 9 para 4 L.2721/1999.

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

Arresting a drug addict for heroin possession the police are obliged, regardless of the type of substance and the amount seized, to report to the district attorney, the only authority responsible to press charges against the offender. According to law 2161/93, for the determination of the sentence the court takes into consideration the amount of the seized substance, so that it can decide whether it was exclusively for personal use or not. Moreover, the degree of harm induced by the specific substance and the schedule in which the substance is classified according to law 1729/87 is also taken into account before the determination of the sentence.

Non-addicted arrested users are brought to trial without being taken into temporary custody. Occasional users, who are arrested, are reported to the district attorney but it is possible that they will not be brought to trial in consideration of the first time offence; an order to follow a counselling programme might be issued instead. Addicted users who are arrested are declared non-punishable by reason of their addiction and they are released.

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

Drug addicts who had committed a property crime in order to facilitate drug use could, until June 1999, follow a licensed detoxification programme according to law 2331/95 instead of being sentenced to prison, on the condition that the treatment service would submit an official report to the District Attorney declaring that the offender had voluntarily begun and was systematically attending the treatment provided by the service. The time spent in treatment was equivalent to the time the offender would spend in prison. If the offender completed treatment successfully, prosecution could be permanently suspended. From June 1999, Law 2721 stipulates the above beneficial provisions also apply to those addicted offenders who have committed some property crime and who can achieve detoxification without attending a complete licensed treatment programme. The necessary pre-conditions for the implementation of the benefits are the following: 1) the verification of a public hospital or licensed treatment programme that the addiction of the offender had started before the commission of the crime, and 2) detoxification should be verified by a licensed drug treatment service after the offender had attended a treatment programme for at least six months [1].

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

Drug addicts involved in drug trafficking face up to 10 years imprisonment, whereas non-addicted offenders face life imprisonment. In 1999 a new law provided beneficial provisions for drug users who exchange small amounts of drugs proven to be exclusively for personal use. This might be considered as a misdemeanor that can lead to 6 months imprisonment that could be either exchanged for a fine or suspended. Charges for trafficking of drugs are pressed against the offender according to the amount of drugs seized or to the information the police have on the offender. It is reported that in case the police are informed that someone is trafficking drugs, they arrest users who obtain drugs from him in order to verify his identity as drug-dealer, and after the positive verification they press charges against the offender for trafficking and not for use. In cases of drug trafficking, the police investigate the offender's residence as well, whereas in cases of simple drug use they do not. The police have set internal rules regarding the specific drugs whose trafficking should be repressed as a priority. Heroin is considered as the "hardest" drug, and thus it is the one that is prosecuted the most. Right after heroin ranks cocaine, then synthetic drugs and cannabis. Users who are also involved in trafficking are reported to the examining judge who decides on their temporary detention in case there are reasons for it, e.g. if they are defined as "especially dangerous". However, they should be brought to trial in no more than 18 months.

Prevention, care and treatment

In 1995 the modification of the law 1729/87 introduced the possibility of suspension of the proceedings in the case of drug addicts accused of violation of narcotics laws. The health authority must report to the district attorney, demonstrating the progress of the accused. In case of successful rehabilitation, the case will be closed and time spent in treatment can be deducted from the sentence (max. one year). Greek legislation includes also the possibility to replace the penalties by an order for detention in a specialized detoxification centre. In other terms drug addicts can be ordered to be detained for compulsory therapeutic treatment in a closed establishment [2]. However, therapeutic units for drug offenders are not available, so the person will continue his prison sentence.

Diversions of proceedings into treatment or other kinds are typically applied only if it is mandatory by law. When these alternatives are provided as an option, they are introduced with reluctance. This happens either because of the legal prerequisites, which are rarely all met, or because the criminal justice system does not consider it as appropriate for the case. There are few cases in which therapy is ordered instead of treatment (1).


The law nº 2161/93 introduced the penalisation of trafficking in precursor substances. Under Art. 9, control of precursor trade is undertaken by the Customs office, with the assistance of the National Drug Organisation in the case of List I chemicals, and the State General Chemical Laboratory in the case of List II and III chemicals. Violations of this control are subject to the penalties laid out in the Customs Code. Under Art. 10.1.(e), it provides for penalties equal to drug trafficking penalties (minimum 10 years' imprisonment and fines of €3 000 - €300 000) for illegal import, production, distribution or possession of precursors knowing that they are going to be used for the illegal production of drugs.
There are also administrative penalties included in Art. 8 of the law 2443/1996, which lists the fines payable by firms who do not respect the conditions required by the Ministerial Accord E2200/600 of 1/7/1994. These include the keeping of professional records concerning the import, export, manufacture and trade of precursor substances.

Money Laundering

Money laundering became an offence in the Greek Legislation under presidential decree 2181/93. With this decree the banks are required to identify the persons making an economic transaction of more than €15 000 and in case of doubts or suspicious of illegal activities, the bank can take reasonable measures to gather more information on the identification of the person. International transactions and foreign exchange dealings are especially under strict control. In 1995, new legislation (law nº 2331/95) was adopted to prevent and combat the legalisation of income from criminal activities. The penalty for such criminal activity can be up to 10 years.


Texts revised by Mrs. Mata Markellou

  • OKANA, Reitox National Reports
  • ELDD legal texts
  • C.D. Spinellis and P. Zagoura, in Prosecution of drug users in Europe: varying pathways to similar objectives, EMCDDA 2001
  • Mata Markellou in Study on alternative to prison, EMCDDA 1998


1. C.D. Spinellis and P. Zagoura in Prosecution of drug users in Europe: varying pathways to similar objectives, EMCDDA 2001 (back)
2. Mata Markellou in study on alternative to prison, EMCDDA (back)

About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Monday, 19 March 2012