Legal status of cannabis in Finland – an overview
Finland Finland is a country situated in the cold northern reaches of Europe, and as such, the types of cannabis that can grow there are severely limited. Despite this, Finland has a long history of hemp use, although the approach to illicit drugs remains regressive, and cannabis laws are relatively harsh by European standards.
Legality of Cannabis Possession, Sale and Cultivation
Cannabis Consumption and Possession
According to the criminal code of Finland, consumption of illicit drugs is punishable by a fine or up to six months’ imprisonment. If the offence in question is deemed to be “petty” (i.e. concerning a small quantity, for personal use, and without aggravating circumstances), the penalty may be waived. This penalty does not alter according to the type of substance in question; thus cannabis is subject to the same penalties as heroin and all other illicit drugs.
Unusually, it seems that Finland does not legally differentiate between possession, sale and cultivation of drugs. Instead, it considers all such offences simply as drug offences. The basic punishment for a “simple” drug offence ranges from a fine to a maximum of 2 years’ imprisonment, while an aggravated drug offence carries a penalty of 1–10 years’ imprisonment.
However, Finnish law also stipulates that “aggravating circumstances” include large quantities of a drug, large financial gains, involvement in organized crime, or substances considered to be “very dangerous”. As cannabis is not considered to be “very dangerous”, in practice it is unlikely for an offender to receive the increased penalty, unless the amount in question is particularly large.
As well as this, there is a legal differentiation in Finnish law that applies to possession of small quantities intended for personal use. For such cases, the penalty ranges from a fine to a maximum of 6 months’ imprisonment. Thus, possession of small quantities is treated the same as consumption, and as with consumption offences, penalties may be waived if the offence is deemed to be petty.
Sale of Cannabis
As previously mentioned, sale of cannabis in Finland is treated the same as possession, and is simply classed as a “drug offence”. Thus, sale of cannabis is punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment, and in the event that there are aggravating circumstances, the penalty may be increased to 1–10 years’ imprisonment.
While cannabis is not legally differentiated from any other drug, it is not considered to be a “very dangerous” drug, so unless the crime involves particularly large quantities, it is unlikely to be subject to the higher level of punishment. However, there is no option for the punishment to be waived for crimes related to supply, even if the amount in question is small.
Cannabis is of inconsistent availability in Finland, with most major imports arriving in the form of hashish from Denmark, which is closer to (and a far more important part of) the major international drug trafficking routes. However, the domestic cultivation scene ensures that the country is not entirely dependent on imports; it also appears that domestic cultivation is on the increase, and may even have overtaken imports in recent years.
Cultivation of Cannabis
Again, production of any drug including cannabis is considered a drug offence, and is punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment. However, it may be possible to achieve a lighter penalty (i.e. a fine or a maximum of 6 months’ imprisonment) if the amount in question is deemed to be small and intended for personal use.
It appears that the cultivation of cannabis is generally viewed harshly by the authorities, as raids on grow shops selling cannabis-related equipment have been reported on several occasions. Furthermore, it is important to note that the sale of cannabis seeds is illegal in Finland, and most domestic growers buy from abroad or from other growers.
In 2011, it was reported by the journal European Addiction Research that Finnish growers favour indoor cultivation (unsurprising, given Finland’s climate) and small plots, and are typically cannabis users themselves. The report also noted that Finns are twice as likely to grow cannabis for medical purposes than their close neighbours the Danes, and that cannabis growers are more common in Finland than in Denmark (which relies even more heavily on imported hashish, and is well-situated to receive it).
Medical Cannabis in Finland
Medical cannabis is legal in some forms in Finland, but the nation is still very far from full legalisation of medical cannabis. In 2008, the Finnish government passed a law permitting the prescription of medical cannabis on a case-by-case basis, which was to be delivered in the form of Bedrocan herbal cannabis imported from the Netherlands. Since then, the authorities have awarded several dozen individuals the right to access Bedrocan cannabis. Cannabis is only prescribed when all other treatment options have failed, and is only approved for a very small range of conditions including cancer pain, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and treatment of glaucoma.
The pharmaceutical cannabis preparation Sativex, manufactured by the UK company GW Pharmaceuticals, has been legally available in Finland since May 2012. Even prior to approval, a select few individuals were given access to Sativex under the existing medical cannabis laws in place since 2008.
The Finnish medical licensing agency Fimea approved Sativex in December 2012, but it is not clear how many patients have received the drug since then. Once it received approval via the European central authorisation procedure (which simultaneously made it legal in a further 9 countries), it became legal for doctors to prescribe the drug while bypassing the requirement to seek individual licenses from the government for each patient. Six months after Sativex was formally approved, it was reported that just 25 people had been prescribed the drug, although updated figures do not appear to be available.
Sativex has received criticism for its high price (reported as €650 for 3 spray bottles each containing just 10 ml, or 100 sprays) compared to other forms of cannabis. The blog MS-Potilas (which documents the use of medical cannabis by an MS-sufferer and activist) reported that an equivalent quantity of THC could be gained from just 5 grams of Bedrocan cannabis at a cost of just over €70 (€14 per gram). Thus, if these figures are accurate, Sativex is almost 10 times more expensive than Bedrocan herbal cannabis, in terms of THC content.
Furthermore, MS-Potilas also noted that even for patients in need of high-CBD preparations, the Bediol strain from Bedrocan supplied just as much CBD as 3 spray bottles of Sativex at a cost of €143 (for 10 grams at €14.30 per gram), making Sativex over 4 times more expensive in terms of CBD content. It is also noted that home cultivation of cannabis is far cheaper than either legally-permitted form, with estimated production costs of just €1 per gram.
In 2011, it was reported that the number of individuals in Finland with access to medical cannabis numbered just 62. In 2012, that number almost doubled to 123, and it appears that numbers of medical cannabis patients have steadily increased since then.
History of Cannabis in Finland
It is not clear when cannabis first arrived in Finland. There is plenty of evidence (in the form of ancient pollen grains dating to as far back as 4000 BCE) to suggest that plants of the Cannabaceae family have been present in Finland for several millennia, but it is generally thought that most early examples of Cannabaceae pollen are actually from wild hop plants rather than cannabis.
From around 800 CE onwards, signs of cannabis become more evident, particularly in the form of hemp seeds excavated from archaeological digs in the southwest of the country. Seeds dated to the Viking period (between 800 and 1050 CE) were found on Ahvenanmaa, a large island between Finland and Sweden that is thought to be one of the earliest sites of cannabis cultivation in Finland. From 1100–1500 CE, digs have yielded seed remnants indicating that cannabis was in widespread and consistent use throughout the period.
Incontrovertible evidence of intentional cannabis cultivation in Finland does not emerge until the 15th and 16th centuries, when early signs of a fledgling hemp fibre industry begin to appear in the historical tax and excise records.
Some have argued that cannabis was brought to Finland at around this time from Russia via the border region of Karelia; however, hemp cultivation was known to have been established by around 800-400 BCE in much of Europe, so it is likely that at least some intentional cultivation occurred in Finland prior to historical records first appearing. It’s also possible that eastern Finland first encountered cannabis brought from Russia, but that southern Finland had already been colonized by varieties expanding through central Europe.
What’s certainly true is that by the 18th and 19th centuries, hemp was the number one crop in Finland, with its production far surpassing that of its closest rival flax. In eastern Finland particularly, great expertise was developed among the hemp farmers of the region, enabling them to spin high-quality fibres of even greater fineness than linen. However, by the turn of the 20th century, the hemp industry in Finland had already begun a decline.
Industrial Hemp in Finland
Although the hemp industry has been of unparalleled importance for much of Finland’s history, the 20th century ushered in a period of rapid decline, as alternative (and less labour-intensive) fibre crops including flax and cotton began to take precedence. As the 20th century progressed, the passing of various anti-hemp laws across the world consolidated the decline, and by the 1950s very little hemp was grown in Finland beyond small private gardens.
However, unlike much of the rest of the world, Finland never passed any specific law banning the cultivation of hemp, so the practice never fully died out, particularly in some of the more remote rural areas of the country. Then, in the 1990s as global attitudes towards hemp began to shift once more, Finland experienced a revival of the hemp industry, and has since grown to become one of the most important contributors to the global hemp economy.
Finland 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 that flourishes in high northern latitudes. Developed in 1995, Finola was added to the EU’s list of subsidized crops in 2003, and has since become one of the most important hemp strains in the world today.
However, the success of Finola has not come easily. There was strong initial resistance from EU representatives over the initial inclusion of Finola, and in 2006, a series of samples showed THC levels to be higher than the permitted 0.2%. Thus, Finola was removed from the list of subsidized crops, and was only returned in 2013 following intensive campaigning from hemp growers and activists in Finland and elsewhere.