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Possession of cannabis for personal use

European Legal Database on Drugs

15 September 2006

The legal status of cannabis for personal use is one of the most controversial policy issues in the European Union. Although cannabis is a classified narcotic drug placed under control by the United Nations and by all EU Member States, the measures adopted to control it at national level vary considerably, as shown in the table below.

Cannabis extracts — marijuana, hashish and cannabis oil — are classified as narcotic drugs under both Schedules I and IV of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Art. 36 requests State Parties to “adopt such measures as will ensure that …possession… of drugs contrary to the provisions of this Convention… shall be punishable offences when committed intentionally...”   The active principles of cannabis, the cannabinoids THC and specifically dronabinol (delta-9-THC), are classified as psychotropic substances under Schedules I and II respectively of the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic SubstancesArt 22 of this echoes the terms of the 1961 Convention above, stating that “each Party shall treat as a punishable offence, when committed intentionally, any action contrary to a law or regulation adopted in pursuance of its obligations under this Convention… “  Finally, the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic of 1988, Art. 3 requests establishment of a criminal offence for possession of drugs for the purposes of trafficking (Art. 3.1(a)(iii)), and for the possession for personal consumption (Art.3.2).  This latter has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations and analyses; see ELDD’s Legal Reports for example the EMCDDA thematic paper “Illicit drug use in the EU: legislative approaches”, section 1.

The EU Member States have transposed the UN precepts concerning the penal or administrative control of cannabis, and have applied them according to their own local or regional circumstances. This has resulted in a heterogeneous 'legal map' regarding cannabis offences: some countries or regions tolerate certain forms of possession and consumption; other countries apply administrative sanctions or fines; while still others apply penal sanctions.  Those laws drafted not long after the UN Convention of 1961 may reflect its concentration on cannabis, coca and opium as well as providing more general drug control measures for all narcotic substances.

Within the EU, the Council Resolution on cannabis adopted in 2004 (CORDROGUE 59) requests Member States to take measures to discourage personal use of cannabis, such as enhancing the communication with cannabis users especially the very young, to inform and train parents, teachers, media professionals, prison staff and police officers, and to promote networking among health and education professionals on cannabis-related issues.  The Council also invites Member States to take measures against Internet sites providing information on cultivation and promoting use of cannabis.


The table below outlines the legal status of cannabis when used or cultivated/possessed for personal use in the different countries, except where stated.  Most information on trafficking can be found in the Topic Overview on Trafficking.

Despite the different legal approaches towards cannabis, a common trend can be seen across the Member States in the development of alternative measures to criminal prosecution for cases of use and possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use without aggravating circumstances. Fines, cautions, probation, exemption from punishment and counselling are favoured by most European justice systems. It is of interest to note that cannabis in particular is frequently distinguished from other substances and given special treatment in these cases, either in the law, by prosecutorial directive, or by the judiciary.  Nevertheless, police arrests for drug offences, mainly those involving cannabis and mainly use-related offences, are increasing in several countries – see the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin for further details.

For the legal status of medicinal cannabis, see also the 2002 report “Medicinal Cannabis and derivatives: a legal analysis of the options, their limitations, and current practice in the EU” in the ELDD’s Legal Reports section.

Member State Offences and penalties related to personal use Legislation Level of prosecution Distinguished from other substances? How? Notes
Belgium Possession of cannabis for personal use is prohibited, but receives a police warning if without nuisance. Offences causing public disorder receive 3 months to 1 year in prison. Loi 24 février 1921, Art 2ter; Arrêté royal de 31 décembre 1930, Art 28; Directive de 17 avril 1998; Directive ministérielle de 16 mai 2003 ; Directive commune de la Ministre de la Justice et des autorités judiciaires du 25 janvier 2005 2003 Directive says maximum for personal use is 3g of cannabis or one plant. Distinguished by Prosecutor Directive. 2003 law stated that cannabis-related offences are specifically punishable by a police fine if non-problematic and for personal use, but this concept was annulled as unclear by the Constitutional Court.
Czech Republic As with all drugs, administrative offence if quantity is small, subject to police fine or warning.  Criminal offence to possess a “quantity greater than small”, with up to 2 yr sentence. Misdemeanour Act s.30(1)(j); Penal Code s.187a. Instruction of Supreme Public Prosecutor says quantity greater than small is about 10 doses of 30mg THC No distinction The draft new Penal Code suggested distinguishing between cannabis and other substances in case of possession, but the draft was rejected in March 2006 for unrelated reasons.
Denmark As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences are punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years Executive Order No.698/1993 s.27(1); Act No. 445 of 2004, s.3(1); Prosecutor Directive 35/2004 A fine is the standard response. For first offence possession of up to 10g hash or 50g marihuana, the Chief Public Prosecutor permits a warning in limited circumstances. Only distinguished in Prosecutor Directive; in limited circumstances, repeated warnings are permitted only for cannabis possession. In June 2004, the law changed to state that warnings for cannabis should only be given in limited circumstances; a fine would be the norm.
Germany As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences are punishable by up to 5 years' imprisonment or a fine; punishment can be remitted in cases of 'insignificant quantities' for personal use BtMG s.29, s.31a; Constitutional Court decision of March 1994 The Constitutional Court stated that even if penal provisions for the possession of cannabis are in line with the constitution, the Länder should waive prosecution in minor cases when possession of cannabis is for personal use. Each Land has determined what it considers to be an 'insignificant quantity' of cannabis. Distinguished by Constitutional Court decision. Also judiciary; in practice, exemptions of BtMG are applied mainly for cannabis. Possession of a small quantity of all drugs is a criminal offence, but is not prosecuted or punished when:
- there is no harm to third persons;
- minors are not involved;
- the substance is for personal use;
- the offence involves an 'insignificant quantity'
Estonia As with all drugs, it is a misdemeanour to use or handle a small quantity, punishable by police fine or 30 days’ administrative arrest.  It is a criminal offence to possess more than a small quantity (a large amount), punishable by up to 10 yrs. 

 

Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1997, Art. 31, Art.151; Penal Code, Art.184 Since 1 July 2005, "large amount" is defined by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act  (Art. 31) as a quantity of substance which is needed to intoxicate at least ten persons.

 

The Prosecutor's Office guidelines of 22 July 2005 define it as more than 20g of marihuana or 10g of hashish.

No distinction The new article in the Act defining a quantity (of any drug) does not take into account the amount of pure substance in mixtures (e.g, tobacco+marihuana), but only the estimated number of doses (e.g, cigarettes) which could have been prepared from the given amount of confiscated substance.
Greece As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences are punishable by up to one year's imprisonment, which the offender can choose to exchange for treatment if it is the first conviction. Law 1729/1987 Art.12, modified by Art.5 of law 3189/2003; 2161/1993 art.14   Distinguished in law: cultivation of cannabis only may also be included as an offence of personal possession  
Spain As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences, such as possession and use in public places, are punishable by administrative sanctions Law 1/1992, Art 25-28. Judicial practice suggests that punishable possession comprises amounts exceeding 40g of hashish. No distinction Sentences for trafficking are higher for a “very dangerous drug” – this does not include cannabis.
France As with all drugs, use is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to one year; possession is punished by up to 10 yrs. Code de la santé publique Art.L.3421-1; Penal Code Art. 222-37; Ministry of Justice Circular of 8 April 2005 Warnings may be given for first cannabis use, if use is occasional and the circumstances do not justify prosecution. Occasional / regular users receive direction to health/ social institutions. No distinction, though the Circular continually quotes cannabis as an example. French law does not officially recognise the motives for possession. But according to the Circular of 2005, possession for personal use is to be punished as for consumption.
Ireland Specifically, possession of cannabis for personal use is punishable by a fine on the first or second conviction. From the third offence onwards, the offender can incur prison sentences of up to 1 year (summary) or up to 3 years (on indictment), or a fine, or both. Misuse of Drugs Act ss.3, 27(1)(a) The fine follows a criminal conviction in court. Distinction by law  
Italy As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences (such as possession for personal use) are punishable by administrative sanctions from the second offence onwards. DPR 309/90, Art. 75. Only a warning is given for first offences of possession of this kind of drug for personal use, with the presumption that the offender does not intend to repeat the offence in future. Distinction by law – the warning is given only for the class of  drugs which includes cannabis.

 

The warning is always given in case the other administrative sanctions are not applicable.
Cyprus Cannabis is a Class B substance – life imprisonment is possible for use and maximum 8 years for possession (maximum 2 yrs for first offence for under 25 yr old). The Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances Law of 1977, s.6 (offence), s.30A (quantities), Third Schedule (penalties)

 

3 plants or more, or 30g or more of cannabis products, are presumed to be for supply. Distinction by law In practice, warning may be given to a minor first offender.
Lithuania As with all drugs, misdemeanour to possess a small quantity, punished by fine up to 6250 litas, arrest of 10-45 days, or restriction of freedom up to 2 years.  Crime to possess more than a small quantity, punished by up to 2 years’ prison. Code of Administrative Offences Art. 44; Penal Code, Arts.259; Order No V-314 of the Minister of Healthcare of April 23, 2003 (quantities) Less than 5g of herb, 0.25g of resin is a misdemeanour. No distinction  
Luxembourg Specifically cannabis-related offences, including use, without aggravating circumstances are punishable by fine from €250 to €2500 Law 19 February 1973 modified by law 27 April 2001, Art.7 Using cannabis in front of a minor, a school or in the workplace can lead to prison sentences (from 8 days to 6 months), use with a minor also participating can lead to prison sentences from 6 month to 2 years and/or is punishable by fine from 500€ to 25.000€ Distinction by law The distinction for cannabis was made in 2001 (Art7 A: other drugs, and B: cannabis and cannabis products).  Before this, all drugs were treated equally.
Hungary As with all drugs, misdemeanour to possess a small quantity, punishable by up to two years’ prison, or, if by an addict, up to one year's imprisonment, community service or a fine.  There may be exemptions from punishment if the offender takes part in a treatment programme. Penal Code, s.282, s.282/C; Statutory rule 5/1979 s. 23 Up to 1g of THC as active principle No distinction  
Netherlands Possession of any controlled drug is a criminal offence, with possession of up to 30g of cannabis legally punishable by imprisonment for one month and/or a fine of €2250, but small quantities of cannabis products for personal use are exempt from punishment. Opium Act, Art. 3C; Opium Act Directive The Directive states that investigation and prosecution of possession of cannabis for personal use (up to 5g) have the lowest judicial priority; the sale of up to 5g of cannabis per transaction in 'coffee shops' is generally not investigated (a transaction includes all sales and purchases made by a single coffee shop in the same day with the same buyer).  AHOJ-G guidelines specify the terms and conditions for sale of cannabis in coffee shops. The maximum stock allowed at any one time is 500g per coffee shop. Distinction by law Sale, production and possession of up to 30g of cannabis are legally punishable by imprisonment for one month and/or a fine of €2250; for possession of more than 30g cannabis, the maximum penalties are four years' imprisonment for import or export, and two years for manufacture, including cultivation, transportation, sale, possession/storage.
Austria As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences are punishable by up to six months' imprisonment. If certain conditions are fulfilled, reports must be withdrawn in cases involving small quantities. According to the law, the conditions for withdrawal of reports in connection with 'first consumers' of cannabis are easier to fulfil (no health report is necessary). SMG, s.35(4) A small quantity is 2g of THC or less, being 10% of the serious quantity limit of 20g defined in the Ordinance 378/1997.  (Prosecutors continue to follow a  Committee of Health recommendation in 1980 that a small quantity should be 10% of the serious quantity.) Distinction by law  
Poland As with all drugs, possession is criminal offence, punishable by up to 3 yrs’ imprisonment.  In a case of “lesser gravity”, the punishment is imprisonment for up to one year, limitation of liberty or a fine. Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction of 29 July 2005, Art.62.1 Cannabis offences are likely to be interpreted as of “lesser gravity”. No distinction as far as the Act is concerned. Distinction possible by court decision when interpreting “lesser gravity”.  
Portugal As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences such as use, acquisition and detention may receive an administrative sanction. Law 30/2000, Art.2, n.º 1 Cases are assessed and decided at a Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Dependence (Law 30/2000, Art. 5, nº 1). Treatment is offered for situations involving problematic use/abuse of cannabis and administrative penalties for up to 10 daily doses, ie up to 25g of marijuana or 5g of hashish may be applied (Law 30/2000, Art. 2, nº2 and Governmental Decree 94/96) Distinction by law – the administrative sanction varies according to the class of drug (Law 30/2000, Art. 15, nº4 c) and Art.16)  
Slovak Republic As with all drugs, possession for personal use is a criminal offence, punishable by up to up to 3 years’ prison, or up to 5 years for a larger amount. Home imprisonment or community service of 40-300 hours are also possible. Penal Code, s.171, s.135 Amounts are defined as up to 3 doses, or up to 10 doses for a “larger amount”.

According to the Penal Code, the court shall conditionally waive a penalty shorter than 2 years for any offence, if the offender and his prior behaviour and other circumstances gives assurance that the purpose of a penalty will be fulfilled without the offender's staying in prison

No distinction  
Slovenia As with all drugs, possession is a minor offence coming under the Misdemeanours Act, punishable by a fine of SIT 50,000-150,000 or up to 30 days’ imprisonment. Possession of small quantities for one-off personal use is a lesser offence punishable by a fine of SIT 10,000 and SIT 50,000 or a prison sentence of up to 5 days Production and Trade in Illicit Drugs Act, Art 33   No distinction There have been no cases of sentencing to imprisonment for the last three decades. In line with the new Misdemeanours Act, imprisonment for minor offences will be abolished completely.

 

Finland As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences, such as use, possession or cultivation, are punishable by a fine or up to two years' imprisonment.   Possession of a small amount for personal use is punished by a fine or up to 6 months’ imprisonment. Penal Code Chapter 50:1 and 50:2a   No distinction Finnish law recognises the concept of a 'very dangerous drug', which refers to a narcotic drug that may cause death by overdose or serious damage to health. This definition is not normally applied to cannabis
Sweden As with all drugs, cannabis-related offences, such as use, are punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years. If judged petty, according to the nature of the substance etc, up to six months or a fine. Narcotic Drugs Punishments Act (1968:64), ss.1-2 Users are usually fined. No distinction.  
United Kingdom Cannabis-related offences, such as possession, are punishable by up to two years' imprisonment; police may warn instead of prosecuting, and courts may apply fines, probation or community service. Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 s.5; ACPO Cannabis Enforcement Guidance There is a presumption against arrest. However, if there is public use, repeated offending, a local policing problem, or a risk to minors, police are guided to arrest. Distinction by law (class of substance) and police guidance (specific to cannabis) In January 2004, cannabis was reclassified to Class C. Police powers of arrest, not normal for possession of Class C drugs, are retained, for use in certain circumstances. Penalties for possession with intent to supply remain at up to 14 years in prison.
Norway Cultivation, possession and use of cannabis are regarded as criminal offences Act on Medicinal Products, ss.24 and 31 (2), Regulation Relating to Narcotics etc. s.4

and Civil Penal Code s. 162.

Based on a directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions, fines are usual for use and for possession of max. 5 g cannabis. Larger quantities or repetition of similar offence within short time (3 months) are normally prosecuted.   No distinction A committee proposed in 2003 that use and possession of small quantities of narcotics should be settled with a simplified writ prescribing an optional (fixed) fine. The proposal is still under consideration in Department of Justice.

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