The History, Laws &
for Cannabis in Sweden
With some of the strictest cannabis laws in Europe, Sweden is unlikely to become a safe haven for cannabis use anytime in the near future. However, its growing medicinal cannabis program and cannabis businesses have begun to thrive.
If you’re interested in starting a Swedish cannabis business, you’ll face heavy headwinds. Here’s what to know about the history of cannabis in Sweden, as well as the country’s cannabis laws and business opportunities.
The History of Cannabis in Sweden
As a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, cannabis in Sweden has been criminalized for over half a century.
In 1968, Sweden enacted a law designating that possession of drugs, including cannabis, could be punished by up to three years in prison. Then, in 1993, the Swedish Medical Products Agency (MPA) became the sole entity charged with regulating narcotic drugs, issuing licenses for special use, and granting licenses and permits for businesses that seek to deal in narcotic drugs.
In 2012, some forms of medicinal cannabis in Sweden were legalized, such as the authorized use of Sativex for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. But it was only after a protracted legal fight that five years later, the first medicinal cannabis patient was authorized to use a low-THC cannabis flower.
In 2017, the Swedish Supreme Court ruled on a case dealing with the cultivation of medicinal cannabis, and the court held that growing medicinal cannabis was a minor drug offense and punishable under the Act on Penal Law of Narcotics.
But one of the most surprising rulings to come down from the Swedish High Court was in 2019, when it ruled that CBD containing any level of THC was a narcotic.
This strong ruling means that, unlike almost every other European country, CBD is illegal for recreational purposes. That said, in 2021, the first 1:1 (THC:CBD) oil was approved for medicinal purposes by the Swedish MPA.
Further, this approval represented the first time in the world that a government-owned company, Enorama Pharma, was authorized to produce domestic supplies of medicinal cannabis oil.
But because the domestic production of cannabis in Sweden is forbidden, all of the cannabis used by the laboratory must be imported (mainly from Denmark or Holland).
Questions on cannabis
Sweden’s Societal Views
Make no qualms about it, cannabis is illegal in Sweden. Although Sweden is considered one of the most socially liberal countries in the world, it's taken a harsh stance against cannabis.
The country has a medicinal cannabis program, but access to the program is limited, and there are very few cannabusinesses in Sweden. Not only is cannabis in Sweden illegal to possess, but it’s also illegal to use.
In fact, if you’re stopped by a police officer who suspects you of using cannabis and you’re found to have cannabis in your system, you could be sentenced from six months up to three years in prison!
A few years ago, a 79-year-old woman who was arrested for using cannabis to alleviate pain was sentenced to four months in prison!
As of 2022, there were less than 5,000 patients in Sweden’s medicinal cannabis program. Cannabis in Sweden still has an oppressive stigma, so physicians are often hesitant to write medicinal cannabis prescriptions.
Further, there’s a lack of information available to Swedes because the government controls what can be said about medicinal cannabis and its benefits. Unfortunately, all of this has reinforced the outdated notion that cannabis is a dangerous drug that turns users into dysfunctional outcasts and criminals.
Despite a push for a wider medicinal cannabis market and legalized recreational cannabis in Sweden, full cannabis legalization is still at least five to 10 years down the road. A 2018 survey even found that around 83% of Swedish respondents were opposed to legalizing cannabis.
That said, there are still ways to enter the Swedish cannabis industry, notwithstanding the unlikelihood of the Swedish government lifting the cannabis prohibitions any time in the near future.
There are opportunities available for aspiring Swedish cannabis entrepreneurs, but it will take some ingenuity and determination to successfully navigate the Swedish cannabis laws.
For instance, recently the Swedish company Enorama Pharma is presently developing a medicinal cannabis chewing gum that it intends to sell on the global cannabis market. The company is currently producing a prototype of the chewing gum to introduce into the North American and European markets.
If you’re considering entering Sweden’s strict cannabis market, it’s crucial that you work with both a professional cannabis consultant and an attorney who are well-versed in Swedish cannabis laws.
Starting a Swedish Cannabusiness
Because Sweden’s cannabis laws are so restrictive, it’s vital for any aspiring cannabis entrepreneur to have a full command on the requirements for entering the industry.
The Swedish MPA is responsible for issuing business licenses for cannabis in Sweden, but availability is limited and highly restricted.
Anyone who is interested in importing, exporting, transiting, manufacturing, trading, or possessing cannabis needs the proper permits from the Swedish MPA.
Obtaining General Authorization
To obtain a permit, you will be required to complete an application, pay a variety of fees, and obtain a number of different licenses and authorizations, depending on the type of work you intend to perform. The Swedish MPA has stated that it takes, at most, four months to process applications.
In addition, you must obtain a permit to conduct your desired activity and a permit for each individual instance of importing or exporting you intend to perform.
You must also list which narcotics you plan to deal with, the amount you estimate you’ll import/export in the next 12 months (domestic cultivation of cannabis in Sweden is not permitted), what it will be used for, and what measures you’ve taken to prevent theft and leakage.
After your application for a permit is submitted, you must also apply for, and be granted, special authorization from the Swedish MPA to import, export, transit, manufacture, or trade in cannabis.
Authorization will be granted in accordance with Law (1992:86) on Control of Narcotic Drugs. It also entails several additional conditions, such as requiring quarterly and annual reporting of handling, as well as paying Swedish MPA charges for the handling of applications and reporting.
Authorization to Import/Export
Cannabis in Sweden
You must first apply for general authorization to conduct importing or exporting of cannabis. Then, you’ll be required to obtain authorization for each individual consignment or shipment of cannabis.
Further, you must obtain authorization from the appropriate authorities in the country of destination/origination. This includes a statement on the quantity imported/exported, which must be confirmed with the Swedish MPA when the shipment reaches its destination.
Authorization to Manufacture
or Trade Cannabis in Sweden
For each activity, you must first obtain general authorization, as detailed above. You will then be required to obtain specific authorization from the Swedish MPA to conduct your desired activity.
The activity you desire to perform — manufacturing or trading cannabis in Sweden — will determine what additional information and procedures are required. If you have any specific questions, you can also contact the Swedish MPA directly via email.
What to Expect for the Future
of Cannabis in Sweden
Sweden has spearheaded the liberalization of so many important social issues. Its government even pays for Swedes to obtain their cannabis prescriptions from pharmacies. But the Swedish government and society are presently opposed to full cannabis legalization.
This doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for the aspiring cannabis entrepreneur in Sweden, particularly for those who capitalize on ingenuity, like the Swedish company creating a cannabis chewing gum.
But because Sweden’s cannabis laws are so strict and the process for obtaining authorization is so nuanced, it’s vital for anyone interested in starting a Swedish cannabusiness to work with professional cannabis consultants.
At Higher Yields Consulting, our experts have decades of combined experience in helping aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs navigate the complicated waters of cannabis in Sweden. Contact us today to start making your Swedish cannabusiness ownership dreams a reality!
Last updated: March 23, 2023