Starting in the 1960s, Finland, like its Scandinavian neighbours developed a history of drug prohibition. However, Finland is too often tarred with the same brush as Sweden’s repressive policies. In reality, since 2008, Finland has legalised medical cannabis and reformed the formerly punitive cannabis policies. Although mainstream politics avoids the subject of full legalisation, youth parties are fighting for reform in the happiest country in the world.
Last year, on the centenary of its independence, Finland was ranked the most stable and the best-governed country in the world, but it has not always been a utopian paradise for its 5.5 million residents, particularly for cannabis users.
During the 1960s cannabis use was on the rise and much of Scandinavia feared for the perceived moral order of the region, resulting in the introduction of harsh penalties for cannabis users.
It took until 2008 for the country to rethink its cannabis laws when Finland legalised medical cannabis and reformed the penalisation for cultivating or selling cannabis. Now, in 2018, Finland is expected to import over 75 kg of dried cannabis from the Netherlands, including Bedrocan, Bediol and Bedica, to treat its ailing patients. While you may legally possess medical cannabis in Finland, you cannot cultivate cannabis or hemp, which many critics claim is severely inhibiting medical cannabis patients.
Recreational cannabis on the other hand is strictly outlawed, though prosecutions of the offences have significantly softened under amendments to the 50th chapter of the Criminal Code. In the reformed procedure the police issue summary fines for the majority of personal offences, and cases are not brought to court unless the defendant so desires. In practice, possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis resin or 15 grams of herbal cannabis is deemed personal use and carries a penalty of 10-20 “day fines”, which are penalties calculated as one half of someone’s daily disposable income.
While there is no legal distinction between cannabis and other hard drugs, it is widely considered to be less dangerous and punishments tend to take this into consideration.
Surprisingly, discussions about drugs policy have been led by the youth wings of political parties, who are in broad agreement about the next steps they want to see for cannabis in Finland.
The youth ranks of the Centre Party, Social Democrats, Green League and Left Alliance have had internal discussions on decriminalising cannabis for personal use. The main issue the political party youth groups agree on is decriminalising possession of cannabis for personal use. Beyond that, other views begin to diverge.
Unfortunately, even political groups that want to decriminalise cannabis in Finland don’t want to legalise it. But Henrik Vuornos, Espoo City Councillor, strikes a more pragmatic note, explaining that mainstream politicians are avoiding the conversation.
Healthcare in Finland consists of a highly decentralised three-level publicly-funded healthcare system, supported by a €21.5 billion budget. Although the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has the highest decision-making authority, the municipalities are responsible for providing healthcare to their residents.
In the Finnish medical cannabis system, specialists must recommend medical cannabis before doctors can prescribe it. Common conditions that qualify for medical cannabis in Finland include cancer, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injuries and epilepsy. Finland does not limit which ailments are eligible for medical cannabis. Instead, patients and their physicians determine together if medical cannabis is an ideal treatment option for their conditions or symptoms. Medications like Sativex, however, are only approved for select conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
For Bedrocan, Bediol and Bedica patients must have a Special Permission for Compassionate Use permit (similar to a cannabis card). The Finnish National Health Insurance will then cover part of the purchase - Bedrocan is usually sold in Finland at €127 for five grams with social insurance and sold at €567 without the social insurance.
We spoke to Hannu Hyvönen, Chair of the Board at Finland’s first medical cannabis company, Hamppusampo.
Looking Down the Barrel..
Finland, with its dark and harsh Winters is an unlikely leader in hemp production but the country is particularly renowned in the world of hemp for the development of hardy hemp varieties such as Finola, the trade name for a resilient, frost-resistant cultivar. Developed in 1995, Finola was added to the EU’s list of subsidised crops in 2003, and has since become one of the most important hemp strains in the world today.
In addition, Cannabis is becoming increasingly popular. According to a report investigating cannabis use by Statistics Finland, 240,000 Finns had used cannabis during the past year. Finland continues to produce independent cannabis and hemp research, much to the delight of the global cannabis community and with a historical infrastructure and culture for hemp production already in place, Finland is in good shape to capitalise on the liberation of medicinal cannabis.
Similarly to Sweden, Finland’s younger demographics have become much more accepting of cannabis consumption, often flocking to the internet to promote their views. The responsibility to create a sustainable and profitable cannabis industry will rest on their shoulders, and by all accounts the younger generations are preparing for change.
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