Sources for this chapter:
1. Cannabis policy and legislation in the Nordic countries
Published by Nordic Welfare Centre, 2019
By The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
Norway has historically a restrictive drug policy with strict enforcement and no separation between different drugs in terms of ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ drugs.
Prevalence and trends
Data from the annual general population surveys carried out since 2012 indicate that cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug among the general population in Norway, and its level of use has been relatively stable in recent years. In 2017, about 1 in 10 young adults reported having used cannabis in the last 12 months.
Drug use among students aged 15-16 years is reported in the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD), which has been conducted in Norway since 1995, and the latest data available are from 2015. Compared with the ESPAD averages (based on data from 35 countries), Norway has a low prevalence of substance use. Norwegian students reported lower than average prevalence rates for lifetime use of cannabis, lifetime use of illicit drugs other than cannabis and lifetime use of NPS. The proportions of students reporting alcohol use in the last 30 days, heavy episodic drinking and cigarette use in the last 30 days are all less than half the ESPAD average.
Minor cannabis violations such as consumption and possession of a very small amount are regulated in Medicinal Products Act § 24, and are almost exclusively sentenced with a fine. Offences such as possession of a larger amount of cannabis for a longer period of time (storage), distribution, manufacturing, import, export, or purchase are regulated in Criminal Code § 231 and § 232 (aggravated offence). Storage (Criminal Code § 231) is often sentenced with a fine, whereas the other acts render prison sentences or alternative sanctions.
Cannabis is regulated in the Medicinal Products Act § 24 cf. § 31 and in the Criminal Code § 231 and 232. Originally, illegal substances were regulated in the Medicinal Products Act, but in the late 1960s, all procedures on drugs apart from use and possession for personal use were moved to the Criminal Code (Hauge, 2013). Criminal Code § 231 (common drug offence) or § 232 (aggravated drug offence) apply in more serious cases, such as distribution, production, import, export, storage (possession of larger quantities), or purchases.
The Norwegian Medicines Agency has only approved one cannabis product – Sativex for multiple sclerosis – for medicinal use (Skretting et al., 2016). Patients may apply for other products such as Marinol and Cesamet under special circumstances (Legemiddelverket).
Cannabis in police-registered offences
There are no official crime statistics based on different substances in Norway, and few studies have calculated the share made up of cannabis. According to a study by Hauge and Nordlie (1989) on drug offences in 1984, about 75% of those concerned cannabis (references in Hauge, 2013). There is reason to believe that the share of cannabis offences is lower today, as there are now more cases involving other, harder drugs such as heroin. The introduction of heroin and other hard drugs in the society probably also partly explains the high increase in investigated drug offences until the 2000s.
Since 2012, Norway has applied a similar system for drunk/drug-impaired driving, with legal limits regulated in Road Traffic Code § 22. Violations of the law are sanctioned with a fine or up to a year’s imprisonment (§ 31). There are precise limits for different substances, with minimum limits to ensure that the law ‘only frame those drivers with substance concentrations in the blood who may suffer from impaired performance’ (Samferdselsdepartementet, 2009, p. 6). A proposition that revised these limits in 2016 concluded that there was insufficient research evidence to suggest any limits for synthetic cannabinoids (Samferdselsdepartementet, 2015).
The risk of getting caught for cannabis use with cannabis as the main and the only substance is probably very low. In a survey among 21–30-year-olds, only about 1% of the cannabis users (n=1064) said that they had been arrested for drug use (Bretteville-Jensen, 2013). In comparison about 20% of those that reported using cannabis AND other drugs (n=548) had been arrested. One conclusion is that the police to a higher extent control users of drugs other than cannabis.
Cannabis on the illegal drug market
The distribution of import and domestic-grown marihuana is unknown, but the confiscations of home-grown marihuana have increased between 2001 and 2011, at least the number of confiscations (not necessarily kilos) (Bretteville-Jensen, 2013). The number of total cannabis confiscations has increased since the 1970s from about 5-700 to about 10,000. In the recent years, the number of confiscations has been about 15,000–16,000 annually (Skretting, 2016). Police priorities and enforcement impact on both the number of confiscations and the total seized amounts. These may also vary depending on whether the police prioritise street-level dealers or large-scale imports.
Country Drug Report 2019 - Norway
The cannabis market can be divided into different trading markets: private, semi-private, and public. Private areas can be in apartments, among friends, or take place through exclusive contacts. Clubs, pubs, and cafés where
the buyer has to know the seller make up the semi-private market, and markets where anyone may enter without any previous knowledge of the buyer/seller constitute the public market (ibid.), or open drug scenes. Indications of the increasing importance of the home-grown industry give reason to believe that the private market circulates a considerable amount of marihuana. According to the Customs Agency, the internet market is increasing its share of the distribution market (Politiet, 2018).
The potency level in cannabis products in Norway has increased according to the police (Kripos, 2017). The average potency in the analysed cannabis products during the last two years has been about 23% THC, while the domestically grown cannabis plants have potency levels of 5–18 % THC.
A report from the Justice and Police Department (2012) on alternative sanctions finds that the penalty levels, although still severe, have decreased somewhat – especially of violations related to personal use. The amount of cannabis that distinguishes between possession and storage has increased steadily. Initially, the maximum limit for a summary procedure was 5 grams of cannabis (Hauge, 2015) but was later raised to 15 grams of cannabis, 30 cannabis seeds, and spice mixes up to 2 grams (Matningsdal, 2016). New guidelines from the state attorney in
2010 (Riksadvokaten, 2010) concluded that the practice regarding import had changed, and that import of small amounts of a substance should be dealt with in a summary process. This means that the right to issue sanctions – fines - in less severe cases is delegated to prosecutors within the police authority in order for them to initiate summary procedures. The practice results from a general depenalisation of drug violations for personal use.
Norway stands out in Scandinavia as the country with the most severe punishment for drug violations in terms of the penalty scales. During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the penalties for drug violations including cannabis were both sharpened and applied (Hauge, 2013). Youth violations normally led to a summary procedure or a waiver of measures, but other cases were normally brought to court. In 1980, only about 2% of the violations resulted in a summary procedure or waiving of measures. Ten years later about half of the violations – almost exclusively of the Medicinal Products Act – were settled in a summary fine procedure.
Penal sanctions are regulated by Criminal Code § 15. The different penal sanctions are imprisonment, detention, community service, and fine (Justis- og politidepartementet, 2011). Other sanctions that apply are not penal sanctions but alternative measures, such as forced psychiatric/mental care, waivers of measures, and transferral to the Norwegian Mediation Service, a government agency with a mediating function between the offender and victim(s).
Waiving of measures is getting more common in Norway for all crimes, decided by the prosecution authority. Measures can be waived in a range of circumstances surrounding a specific case, according to Penal Process Act § 69. They often have to do with the perpetrator’s age and the severity of a crime, or other social circumstances. If a person has committed several crimes, measures can be waived for smaller offences that have little impact on the sentence.
As in other Nordic countries, there are fines set by court or through a summary procedure. A summary procedure is a process where the sanction is settled outside of the courts with a fine. This is applicable to violations of the Medicinal Products Act and Criminal Code § 231 up to 15 grams of cannabis where there is no intention to distribute.
Alternative sanctions to fines and imprisonment
There are several alternative sanctions for drug violations in Norway. Community service is not meant for more serious violations but for users whose rehabilitation might profit from this kind of sanction (Matningsdal, 2016).
Drug programme by court order is a recently installed sanction (Act of 17.juni 2005 nr. 92), with special ‘drug courts’ for people with drug problems and a long criminal career who are sentenced for drug-related crimes. Drug programme by court order is a voluntary measure with individually planned rehabilitation programmes. Drop-outs might have to serve the rest of the sentence in prison.
The age of criminal responsibility in Norway is 15, as in the other Nordic countries. A child under the age of 15 that violates the Medicinal Products Act or the Criminal Code is transferred to the Social Services and the Child Welfare Service.