Sweden - Cannabis

Sources for this chapter:

1. Cannabis policy and legislation in the Nordic countries

A report on the control of cannabis use and possession in the Nordic legal systems

Published by Nordic Welfare Centre, 2019

2. Research brief: Cannabis – harmless recreation or harmful drug?
Research Brief by Forte

3. Country Drug Report 2019 - Sweden

By The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)

Cannabis use

Cannabis remains the illicit substance most commonly used in Sweden. However, lifetime prevalence of cannabis use among the general population remains low in comparison with other European countries. The data indicate that cannabis use is concentrated among young adults, in particular those aged 15-24 years. The long-term trend analysis shows a slight increase in last year cannabis use over the past decade among 16- to 34-years-olds. In general, cannabis use is more common among males than females.


The prevalence of use of cannabis and other illicit drugs was measured in the survey ‘Vanor och Konsekvenser’, conducted in 2017 following the previous data collection in 2013. The survey was conducted by the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN). The results show that, in 2017, around 4 % of people aged 17-84 years reported using at least one substance classified as narcotics in the previous 12 months.

Estimates of last-year cannabis use among young adults (17-34 years) in Sweden (EMCCDA)


The Swedish drug legislation rests on international conventions, in common with the drug legislation in the other Nordic countries. Sweden fulfils the international narcotics conventions and the EU legislative framework on drugs (2004/757/RIF of the 25th oct. 2004) in that it has implemented the required legislation and even more so. The Narcotic Drugs (Punishments) Act came into force in 1968 and has since been revised several times in a more restricting direction with harsher punishments (Träskman, 2011). The most recent and important changes to the Swedish drug legislation is the criminalisation in 1988 of personal use of drugs and the adding of imprisonment to the penalty scale in 1993. 

Narcotic Drugs (Punishments) Act

 The law has four different penalty scales. Use (consumption), possession, manufacturing, and distribution of illicit drugs are criminal offences that can lead to fines or imprisonment up to 10 years. As individual substances are not regulated separately, penalties depend on such factors as the amount of possession of certain substances and their perceived dangerousness.
• minor drug offence (fine or imprisonment up to six months)
• drug offence (imprisonment for at least 14 days and up to three years)
• aggravated drug offence (imprisonment for at least two years and up to seven years), and
• particularly aggravated drug offence (imprisonment for at least six years and up to 10 years)

Drug offences in Sweden

Cannabis was the most common substance (66%) in summary procedures (prosecutor fines) and court verdicts as compared to other age groups, where amphetamines were more common.  In the age groups 50–59 and 40–49, amphetamine was prevalent in 38% and 36% of the cases, respectively (Brå, 2010a). This is similar to the substance distribution ten years earlier, but the share of cannabis was higher in 2009 in all age groups apart from those aged 40–49.

Drug-impaired driving

Sweden has had a zero-tolerance policy on drug-impaired driving since 1999 (Ahlner, Holmgren, & Jones, 2014) under § 4 of the Swedish Road Traffic Offences Act. The penalty for driving under the influence of drugs (alcohol included) is fines or imprisonment up to six months, and up to two years for
aggravated offences. A prison sentence for aggravated cases can also result in contract care and substance abuse treatment (Trafikverket, 2017). Any trace of an illegal substance is punishable according to the Swedish legislation. 

The number of reported drug-impaired drivers has increased dramatically. The number of blood samples submitted for toxicological analysis was in 2014 more than 10 times higher than before the zero-tolerance legislation. This does not mean that drug-impaired driving has increased; studies show that the prevalence of illegal substance use in fatal car accidents has been about the same since early the 2000s (Ahlner et al., 2014). As with drug offences, the statistics mirror mainly police enforcement strategies and priorities.

Cannabis market

Price reports from the police indicate that cannabis is well spread throughout the country, as are amphetamines and cocaine (Guttormsson & Zetterqvist, 2018). Over time, the price levels have decreased for all registered illegal drugs, but cannabis has had the smallest decrease. This is due to a price increase in 2005–2015. During the two recent countings, the price for cannabis had decreased to about 100 SEK/ gram (ibid.), with regional variations. Marihuana is more expensive than hashish (Polismyndigheten & Tullverket, 2017).

In 2012–2016, 2344 kilos of cannabis were on average confiscated either by the police or by the customs annually (53% hashish and 47% marihuana). The confiscated amount has increased for all illegal substances since the year 2000 (except for heroin) but the amounts of cannabis and medicinal drugs have increased the most (Brå, 2017a).

According to the Swedish Police and the Customs Agency (Polismyndigheten & Tullverket, 2017), the potency in cannabis products in Sweden has increased significantly over time. THC levels as high as 34% have been found in confiscated cannabis products compared to the median level of 20% in 2015. 

Most cannabis in Sweden is imported from networks with international connections to countries such as Albania, Vietnam, Morocco, and the Netherlands (Polismyndigheten & Tullverket, 2017). Domestic production seems to be on the rise though, and marihuana has become more dominant in western Europe compared to hashish (Dujourdy & Besacier, 2017; Polismyndigheten & Tullverket, 2017).

Synthetic cannabinoids are the most frequent substance among those recently classified as harmful to health (Folkhälsomyndigheten, 2017a). In 2015 the most common newly classified psychoactive substances were synthetic variants of khat and amphetamine-like substances.

Penal sanctions system

The penalty levels for drug offences have increased over the last 50 years (Andersson et al., 2012; Träskman, 2012).  The average time of imprisonment was about 17 months in 2000–2011. After 2011 to
2015, the average time has decreased to about 12 months of imprisonment due to changes in practice

By 2009, over half of the sanctions for violations against the Narcotics Act were fines (Holgersson & Knutsson, 2011). Fines can be issued by a prosecutor in order to avoid trial (summary procedure), or issued by the court. Fines by a summary procedure became more common in the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. In 2014, the most common sanction for a minor drug offence as main crime were fines
(72%) and waivers of measures in 25% of the cases. For normal drug offences, imprisonment was the most common type of sanction (36%), followed by probation (25%). For aggravated drug offences, 99% of the sanctions were imprisonment (Brå, 2017a). Unpaid fines may be converted to a prison sentence from 14 days up to three months (SFS 1979:189: Fine Enforcement Act § 15). 

Alternative sanctions

In more severe drug cases, the court may leave the convicted person to treatment under The Care of Abusers Act, and in that case she/he is transferred to the social services according to Criminal Code § 2 31 ch., if the penalty value is under one year (SOU 2011:6a).

Contract care is a sentence specifically meant for substance abusers, replacing prison sentences for up to two years (Hildebrandt 2016). The individual must follow a certain treatment plan in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Probation is only applicable for crimes where the sanction is more severe than a fine. Probation is first and foremost a supervised sentence outside of institutions but can be combined with, for example, imprisonment from 14 days up to three months, fines, provision for individual treatment plans, or contract care (Kriminalvården a).

Conditional sentence is a more lenient intervention than probation and is applied when there is no reason to believe that the accused will commit further crimes. A conditional sentence comes with a trial period of two years according to Criminal Code § 3 ch.27..

Community service can be combined with probation or a conditional sentence. The sentenced person should perform unpaid labour during spare time for a minimum of 40 hours to a maximum of 240 hours (Kriminalvården b).

Medicinal use

No regulatory authority in the world has approved unprepared cannabis as a medicine, and it has not been established as a treatment by any country’s public health agency.
There are, however, medications containing cannabinoids that have been extracted from the cannabis plant or synthesised. These products have undergone meticulous testing to investigate both their benefits and side-effects. 

The medications used in Sweden are Sativex and Marinol, the latter of which can be prescribed under licence. Sativex comprises equal parts THC and CBD, and is used in spray form to relieve painful cramps associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). The active ingredient in Marinol is dronabinol, which is synthetic THC. Marinol is used largely to improve appetite and combat weight loss in AIDS sufferers, and to reduce the nausea caused by chemotherapy. Another licensed medication is Epidiolex, which only contains CBD and is prescribed for children with certain forms of severe epilepsy. The use of these medicines is limited, but has risen in recent years. Swedish figures for 2018 show that 395 patients received Sativex, 11 were given Marinol and a few more were prescribed Epidiolex.