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Sources for this chapter:

1. Cannabis policy and legislation in the Nordic countries

A report on the control of cannabis use and possession in the Nordic legal systems

Published by Nordic Welfare Centre, 2019

2. Iceland Magazine, August 2015

Drug use has been a penal offence in Finland since 1966, regulated in the Criminal Code. The Finnish Criminal Code regulates both use, possession, manufacturing, growing, smuggling, selling, and dealing of narcotics.

Finland has a restrictive drug policy, where the overall goal is to reduce the use and distribution of drugs in the Finnish society. This goal is pursued through criminalisation and control. Finland has in the last decade moved somewhat in the direction of harm reduction in its drug policy, and the current Governmental Action Plan on Drug Policy emphasises preventive measures, minimisation of harm, and protection of basic human rights (Valtioneuvosto, 2016). The repressive control regime nevertheless prevails as the main preventive strategy.

Drug offences are separated into three categories in the Finnish Criminal Code: drug-user offences, narcotics offences, and aggravated narcotics offences. Cannabis is not differentiated from any other drug
in the Criminal Code, but according to consistently accepted practice, cannabis renders the most lenient penalties of the penal range (The Office of the Prosecutor General, 2006).

Use of drugs, possession of drugs, and the attempt to acquire minor quantities of drugs for own use have since the 2001 legal reform been regulated in a separate category in the Criminal Code (50:2a§). The penal latitude for this crime extends from fines to a maximum six-month imprisonment. 

The sentencing recommendations for cannabis are as follows:

  • • 5–20 day fines for possession of less than 15 g

  • • 20–50 day fines for 10–50 g

  • • 50–80 day fines for 50–100 g

Narcotics offences include illegal production, import, export, transport, spreading, and possession of drugs. The penal latitude for these offences stretches from fines to a two-year imprisonment. In the case of cannabis, the recommended penal latitude is as follows (Helsinki Court of Appeal, 2006):

  • • 20–50 day fines for less than 10 g of cannabis

  • • 50–80 day fines for 10–40 g

  • • 30–60 days for 40–100g

  • • 60 days–9 months for 100–500 g

A drug offence is considered aggravated when the substance is very dangerous or large quantities are involved, if the offence brings considerable financial profit or is part of an organised group offence, and if substances are distributed to minors or cause serious danger to the life or health of several people. 

The sentencing recommendations for cannabis are as follows (Helsinki Court of Appeal, 2006):

  • • 1–1.5 years for 1–3 kg

  • • 1.5 –3 years for 3–10 kg

  • • 5–7 years of 50–100 kg

  • • >seven years of imprisonment for more than 100 kg of cannabis

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is legal in closely regulated circumstances in Finland. Since 2008, it has been possible to grant a special permit for patients when other treatments have failed. Medical practitioners can apply for a permit from the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea in order to be able to prescribe medical cannabis (Sativex) for a specific patient.

Change in sight?

Despite some more liberalised attitudes towards cannabis in the population (Hakkarainen & Karjalainen, 2017), there is no imminent change in sight in Finland’s penal stance towards the drug. The groups
advocating decriminalisation (user organisations, activists, and other people considering the question an important societal issue) are not influential enough for the stakeholders to introduce legislative changes. However, at the beginning of 2018, researchers at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare
(THL) provoked a discussion on the penal practice, advocating treatment and social work rather than sanctions (Hakkarainen & Tammi, 2018).

The Finnish police have a tradition on implementing drug laws strictly (Kainulainen, 2009). The number of cases tells a similar story: A total of 27,777 drug law offences were recorded by the police, customs, and border control in 2017 (Official Statistics of Finland, b). This number has been rising steadily from 13,300 reported drug offences back in 2006.

The case of drug-impaired driving has in recent years won growing attention in Finland. Traffic control has become an important area of policing; the police identify intoxicated drivers by observing the way they drive (Poliisi, 2018 c).  When a person is suspected of drug-impaired driving, the police investigates both the offence of driving a motor vehicle under influence of drugs, and a drug use offence. It is up to the prosecutor to decide whether the person is charged for both crimes, or only for drug-impaired driving.

According to the police, the typical drug use offenders are young people trying out drugs (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö, 2016). A lenient stance is usually taken towards minors’ drug use, primarily focusing on intervention. The practice of oral reprimands for first-time drug use is in line with the idea of destigmatising
rather than punishing. Government-financed campaigns directed to young people also have the same approach, even if not very prominently. 

Cannabis on the Finnish illicit drug market
Cannabis products are the most popular substances on the Finnish drug market. As in the rest of Europe, the cannabis market has become more herbalised over the last decades, and one important explanation is to be found in the rapid increase in cannabis cultivation (Hakkarainen, Perälä, & Metso, 2011; Poliisi, 2018a). While the police report of decreasing levels of confiscated hashish, marihuana has grown more important both in terms of numbers and quantities involved in confiscations. Today, imported marihuana and domestically cultivated cannabis are the most used cannabis products

Sanctions system
Fines are the predominant sanction for drug offences. Even though a fine may appear as a lenient punishment, its effect is most uneven depending on the socioeconomic situation of the convict. In the case of cannabis, the conversion sentences therefore only concern breaches of the law on narcotic offences. The current government is however promoting law changes that would imply conversion of summary fines into prison sentence if the number of unpaid fines exceeds seven per year (Oikeusministeriö, 2018). 

Waiving of measures is possible when the punishment is a fine or up to six months’ imprisonment. Measures can be waived at all stages of the criminal justice system; by the police, prosecutor, or the judge. 

The number of times the police have directed someone to treatment has recently been around 500 per year (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö, 2016). According to Kainulainen (2006b), the sparse implementation is worrying. Cannabis users also face a substantial problem in that specific cannabis care programmes are almost non-existing in Finland (Stenius, 2019).

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