Germany is plugging away at establishing its watered down version of a cannabis legalization, which is a let down from its original plan for a full-fledged market. Now, Finland is trying its luck at getting some kind of recreational cannabis legalization, which is quite a turn around for the ice-cold EU country.
Finland and cannabis
Finland is a Northern European country that sits as a sort of border between Eastern and Western Europe. It borders Russia to the East, Sweden to the west, and Norway to the north. Nearly 2/3 of the country is covered by dense forests, making it the country with the most dense forests in Europe. It has a small population of 5.6 million; and is a part of the EU, Eurozone, and NATO. It’s a country that ranks high in terms of the following: educational systems, economics, civil liberties, human development, and overall quality of life.
Cannabis is illegal for recreational use currently in Finland. Prohibition in the country started in 1966, with personal use made illegal in 1972. In 2001, the procedure for dealing with personal use cases was updated; a change meant to unburden the courts from all the personal use cases coming through. This doesn’t mean it started letting people go for these crimes though, it means it streamlined its process to make it smoother, more expedited, and geared toward money-collection over jail time.
In fact, the country was unhappy with a number of personal use cases not getting prosecuted, and made the reforms to ensure that all arrests get some sort of attention, without requiring the courts. So though cannabis reforms were made, not in the usual way we mean when we say ‘reforms’. They were instituted to create a a more consistent and workable system of punishment, even for small-scale use.
The new procedure, which stands today, is that the police give summary fines when a person is caught with personal use amounts, but the case doesn’t go to court unless the defendant pushes to do so. This is not the case for aggravated offenses, or bigger crimes like selling, which are always heard in court. The penalties for these latter crimes are much harsher. Under current practice, a person with no more than 15 grams of dry flower, or 10 grams of hash, is considered a personal user. This is met with a punishment of 10-20 day fines, which are fines based on daily personal income.
In terms of medical cannabis, Finland doesn’t have a wide-reaching program. It allows for cannabis use in the most extreme medical cases, amounting to 223 legally permitted users in 2014, as an example. As there is no industry in the country, those that do use it, use imported pharma products only like Sativex or Bedrocan. There are a limited number of apothecaries that sell cannabis medicines.
In 2019, a push began for real marijuana reform in the country, with the introduction of a citizens’ initiative to decriminalize personal use. The initiative collected the necessary 50,000 signatures to be heard by parliament, plus almost 10,000 extra. This created a requirement for parliament to consider the topic between 2019-2023, though nothing ever came of it. The current story is not about this initiative, but a more recent one which also collected the necessary 50,000 signatures. This time for full legalization.
Will recreational cannabis become legal in Finland?
The current initiative started last October, with the goal of a recreational legalization in Finland, complete with an adult-use market. This initiative also needed to gain 50,000 signatures, which it did at the end of April, requiring parliament to consider the case. The current initiative, should it make it through parliament, would legalize the use, possession, manufacture, and sale of cannabis in the country, as well as allow for personal cultivation.
According to the wording of the initiative, these are some of the key points:
- The aforementioned legalization for use, possession, subsistence farming, manufacture, and sale of cannabis, with age restrictions attached.
- The need for a regulatory system for the commercial cannabis market; with a goal of reducing harm to both individuals and society.
- The inclusion of a cannabis tax to compensate for societal harms.
- The need for a clearer distinction between low-THC cannabis and high-THC cannabis, so there is no confusion for farmers.
- The expungement of criminal records for minor sale and cultivation crimes.
The initiative makes this statement: “This initiative provides a comprehensive justification for why Finland, too, should replace the Cannabis Prohibition Act with regulation. The regulation of intoxicants must be based on researched information. The Prohibition Act did not bring us a cannabis-free world. Regulation does not bring us a harm-free world of cannabis either, but it can minimize the harm and compensate for the costs.”
This initiative was helped in part by Green Party member Coel Thomas. Currently, the Green Party is the only political party in Finland to openly support cannabis reform. Thomas helped write the initiative; though his own thoughts are that it likely won’t get adopted now; and works more to continue building the case for legalization. Said Thomas of the initiative to Cannabis Health News:
“It seems likely that we will have a right-wing conservative government coming in, but even under a center-right or center-left government, it’s not likely that we could advance legalization. I don’t see how it could get a majority of votes. However, we are starting a conversation in Finland right now, that in my opinion, will most likely lead to the legalization and regulation of cannabis this decade.”
In terms of where the people in the country stand on the topic, a recent survey from the Institute for Health and Welfare, which yle reported on last month, showed a change in attitude toward cannabis for the Finnish people. According to the survey, 57% saw binge drinking as more dangerous than cannabis use, while 53% said personal use shouldn’t be considered a crime.
Can Finland pass a recreational measure like this?
Something to remember is that this initiative was started before Germany was made to downgrade its plans by the EU. Even if Finland were to pass a recreational cannabis measure, could it look anything like what was proposed? After all, Finland is also a part of the EU, and subject to EU restrictions. Unless a country is willing to go up against the EU, it should not expect to accomplish more than Germany did; at least not without a change to EU cannabis politics. This doesn’t negate the ability for a legalization, but it does for a regulated market.
Just last month, Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, had to renege on Germany’s original plans for a full-scale adult-use market in the country. In light of not getting EU approval, the country reorganized to present a plan with two parts: one a legalization that allows social clubs for growing and dissemination, and one a pilot program wherein sales can take place on a very small scale, in specified individual locations only. Finland shouldn’t realistically expect to do more.
That this just transpired with Germany, is a direct indication that Finland will not be able to pass this initiative for recreational cannabis; as the initiative in current form calls for things which were just ruled out for Germany. If this topic wasn’t worth Germany having major issues with the EU, its unlikely to provoke a country like Finland to do so.
At the time the initiative was written, these issues had not fully come to pass. They should have been foreseen (and were by some), but the result had not occurred; making it a reasonable goal. I expect part of Coel Thomas’s attitude about it now, is an understanding that regardless of how much Finland could be brought on-board with the idea, that this particular attempt is not feasible. What he says makes sense though. In most places where cannabis reform changes occurred, there were failed attempts that precipitated the changes.
This current attempt, (like the previous one), stands as a building block for an overall update, which is likely to come soon enough. In fact, it’s good to see countries like Finland, which previously quiet on the topic of reform; break out of that mindset, and enter the one where a real push for change exists.
Whether the initiative was simply ill-timed – (collecting signatures for a measure that Germany’s experience just invalidated), or an example of the need for more support on the topic; it does now enter Finland into the conversation of cannabis reform. Giving us yet another country to keep an eye on.
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