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Researcher finds cannabis use more common than believed

A citizen’s initiative to decriminalise the possession and use of marijuana for personal purposes has so far gathered just over 10,000 signatures. However drug use researcher and sociologist Jussi Perälä says that the substance is more widely used in Finland than many would believe.

Mies polttaa marihuanaa.
Researcher Jussi Perälä has found that up to one million Finns have experimented with cannabis at some point. Image: Etienne Ansotte / EPA

As the US moves to legalise some aspects of marijuana use, Finns have also launched their own discussion on the relative merits and demerits of legalisation. A citizen's initiative to decriminalise personal possession and use of the substance has also taken off.

According to sociologist Jussi Perälä, cannabis is widely used in Finland.

“Statistics show that the most typical user is youngish men – aged 25 – 34 years. However in the field we can see that it’s widely used. For young people it’s normal,” Perälä said.

The researcher noted that young people have a more relaxed attitude to the drug than older age groups, who have a more negative outlook.

Nearly one million have experimented

Perälä revealed that nearly one million Finns have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. However a national survey conducted in 2010 showed that 17 percent of 15 – 69 year olds admitted to having used the drug at some time in their lives.

During a study conducted in the last four weeks a significantly smaller proportion conceded using cannabis – just one percent of respondents. The researcher speculated that most respondents did not divulge their dalliances with the drug.

In recent years more people have taken to cultivating cannabis in their homes. According to Perälä roughly 40 – 60,000 Finns have grown marijuana at home and 10 percent of Finns know household cannabis farmers.

“Active farmers may number around 20,000. However it’s difficult to estimate the exact number,” Perälä added.

Customs intercepting fewer smugglers

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare NHL, the proportion of trafficked cannabis confiscated by police and customs officials lies between 10 and 25 percent. Based on this estimate the marijuana market in Finland is between three and seven tons.

In 2012 customs and police impounded a combined total of 700 kilograms of cannabis products, including 18,000 plants. Customs officials also say that these finds represent a small fraction of the marijuana in the local market.

Last year Customs intercepted far fewer cannabis products that in 2012. Preliminary data indicate that last year customs officials nabbed 250 kilograms of cannabis, compared to nearly 400 kilograms of marijuana and hashish the previous year.

Customs crime prevention chief Hannu Sinkkonen said that the reason for the decline in interceptions is changing courier routes. Because Finland has successfully cut off cannabis loads heading to the Russian market, couriers have shifted their routes further south through Baltic countries.

Trade dominated by professionals

According to Sinkkonen another change has involved smugglers increasingly concealing cannabis in body cavities, in much the same way that couriers previously did with hard drugs.

So-called tourist smugglers transport small amounts of the substance for their own use or for their close circle. The customs chief also pointed out that seeds are continually smuggled into Finland. However the majority of marijuana entering the country comes in the hands of professional smugglers.

“If we look at the total number of kilograms, then 90 percent or even more is brought in by professionals,” Sinkkonen noted.

Drug use researcher Perälä speculated that the street price of a gram of cannabis could be up to 20 euros. Patrons purchasing from acquaintances might pay a discounted price of 10 – 15 euros. Users may also get the drug free from a friend or supplies might come from joint cultivation which allows the farmers to split the costs.

According to preliminary data from Statistics Finland last year just under 13,000 persons were found guilty of drug use offences, slightly more than the previous year. User offences accounted for half of all drug crimes, which totaled 23,000 last year.

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