Drug law offences

‘Reports’ (37) of offences against national drug legislation (use, possession, trafficking, etc.) reflect differences in law but also the different ways in which the law is enforced and applied, and the priorities and resources allocated to specific problems by criminal justice agencies. In addition, information systems on drug law offences/offenders vary considerably between countries, especially as regards recording procedures, definitions and statistical units. These differences lead to major difficulties when comparing data from several EU countries. For this reason, whenever possible, trends, rather than absolute figures, are compared.

The majority of reported drug offences are related to drug use or possession for use (38) – ranging from 39 % of all drug law offences in Portugal (39) to 89 % in Austria. In Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, where drug use is not a criminal offence, all drug offences relate to dealing or trafficking. Finally, Luxembourg and Norway (40) report a majority of offences for both drug use/dealing and drug trafficking.

Figure 17

‘Reports’ for drug law offences in the EU countries and Norway, 1991–2001 – three-year moving averages indexed (1991 = 100)

item Belgium | item Denmark | item Germany | item Greece | item Spain | item France | item Ireland | item Italy | item Luxembourg | item Netherlands | item Austria | item Portugal | item Finland | item Sweden | item UK | item Norway


For definitions of reports for drug law offences, please refer to Statistical Table 29: Number of ‘reports’ for drug law offences in the EU countries and Norway, 1985–2001. Real values have been input for all countries in 2001, for Belgium in 1995 and 1997, for Spain in 1996 and for the United Kingdom and Norway in 2000, as available data do not allow calculation of moving averages in these cases. The series is discontinued for Belgium in 1996 (data not available).

Sources: Reitox national focal points.


In 2001, cannabis remained the drug most often involved in drug law offences – accounting for 34 % of drug-related reports in Portugal and Sweden and as many as 86 % in France. In Luxembourg, heroin is the most commonly involved drug, while in the Netherlands most drug offences are related to ‘hard drugs’ (drugs other than cannabis and its derivatives) (41).


In the EU as a whole, ‘reports’ for drug law offences steadily increased over the 15 years from 1985 to 2001 (42), increasing fourfold in the EU as a whole and from less than twofold in Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to more than sixfold in Ireland and Finland.

Over the last three years for which data are available, the number of drug-related ‘reports’ increased in most EU countries. The highest increases were reported by Ireland, Finland and Norway. However, in 2001, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal (43) reported a fall in the number of drug-related ‘reports’ (44) (Figure 17).

In all countries for which information was available, the proportion of all drug law offences accounted for by offences related to drug use/possession for use generally increased between 1996 and 1999–2000 (Figure 16 OL). Since then, trends have diverged, with a continuous upward trend in France, Germany and Norway, a decrease in Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal and Sweden and stabilisation in the United Kingdom (45).

In 10 EU Member States, available data enable trends in the drugs involved in reports of drug law offences to be determined for the period 1996–2001. Over this period, the proportion of all drug offences that were cannabis related generally increased in France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, remained stable in Sweden and decreased in Ireland, Austria and the United Kingdom (46). In 2001, marked increases were reported in Spain, Luxembourg and Portugal (Figure 17 OL).

Over the same 5-year period, the proportion of reports of heroin-related offences decreased in all Member States for which data are available, except in the United Kingdom, where heroin-related offences have increased year on year since 1996 (Figure 18 OL). The opposite trend is apparent for cocaine-related offences, with the proportion increasing in all countries except Germany and Portugal (Figure 19 OL).

(37) The term ‘reports’ for drug law offences covers different concepts, varying between countries (police reports of suspected drug law offenders, charges for drug law offences, etc.). For an exact definition for each country refer to Box 11 OL: Definitions of ‘reports for drug law offences’ in the EU countries and Norway. (The term ‘arrests’ was used in previous annual reports.)

(38)  Statistical Table 27: Offence type most involved in ‘reports’ for drug offences in the EU countries and Norway.

(39) In Portugal, drug use has been decriminalised since July 2001. As a result, the proportion of drug offences that were drug use related was lower in 2001 than in 2000, when it was 55 %.

(40)  Norway is not able to distinguish between ‘drug dealing/trafficking’ alone and ‘drug use/dealing and trafficking’. The remaining drug law offences are related to ‘drug use’ alone.

(41Statistical Table 28: Drug most involved in ‘reports’ for drug offences in the EU countries and Norway.

(42Statistical Table 29: Number of ‘reports’ for drug law offences in the EU countries and Norway, 1985–2001.

(43)  The decrease in Portugal is mainly due to the decriminalisation of drug use since July 2001.

(44) At the time of writing, 2001 data were not available for Belgium, Norway and the United Kingdom.

(45)  Up to 2000, as at the time of writing 2001 data were not available for the United Kingdom.

(46) Up to 2000, as at the time of writing 2001 data were not available for the United Kingdom.