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Gardeners push to make medicinal cannabis Finland's next export hit

The central market garden association says it could make medicinal cannabis a Finnish export.

Lääkekannabiksen kasvatusta Kanadassa.
Cannabis plants grown for medicinal use in Canada, where most of the EU's medical marijuana comes from. Image: Warren Toda / EPA
Kasper Salonen

Many commercial florists have expressed their desire for the legalisation of medical cannabis cultivation, according to the Finnish Market Garden Association.

In mid-February MEPs voted to adopt a resolution on the medicinal use of cannabis which asked for an EU-wide legal definition of medicinal cannabis to be established, in order to distinguish it from other uses of the plant.

The price of the cannabis-based mouth spray Sativex has risen along with increased use for treatment of patients suffering chronic pain or disease like multiple sclerosis since it was introduced in Finland in 2012.

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Sativex is the only brand of medicinal cannabis in Finland. Image: GW Pharmaceuticals

A monthly supply of Sativex can cost many hundreds of euros. National health insurance agency Kela does not cover any of the costs of medicinal cannabis for the 200-odd patients in Finland who are prescribed the drug.

"We're talking about a growing industry worth billions of euros worldwide, and we would like to find out if commercial gardeners could make cannabis a Finnish export," the Market Garden Association's executive director Jyrki Jalkanen said.

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kannabisviljelmä Kanadassa
Cannabis sativa is used as a legal medicine in several countries. Image: Warren Toda / Epa

Currently, growing cannabis under any circumstances is illegal in Finland, but a recent poll found that Finnish residents are increasingly in favour of the use of cannabis as a medicine.

Denmark legalised medicinal cannabis cultivation last year, prompting some 20 growers to swap out their vegetables for the seven-leafed plant.

"If gardeners in some EU countries are allowed to choose what they grow, we want entrepreneurs to have that same freedom of choice," Jalkanen said.

Domestic know-how available

Different countries prohibit or allow the use of cannabis in varying degrees, and many governments and institutions insist there is not yet enough medical data on the side-effects and benefits of cannabis to safely implement its use as a medicine.

"There needs to be evidence that cannabis works as a medicine, like other medicines," chief Liisa Näveri from drug watchdog Fimea said.

As for domestic gardeners, people such as sales chief Pia Taari-Kohonen from Luumäki garden centre Ansari-Yhtymä are ready to commit to growing cannabis as a proven medicine.

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Pia Taari-Kohonen Ansari-Yhtymä Luumäki
Pia Taari-Kohonen said she would swap geraniums for cannabis if she could. Image: Jari Tanskanen / Yle

"We could supply three to four growth cycles per year, all year round," Taari-Kohonen said.

Entrepreneurs say Finnish greenhouse smart technology such as water-cooled LED lights and growth stage analysis know-how can already be used to optimise growing, and the tech is also proving to be a high-selling export.

Facilities with around-the-clock surveillance would also be necessary for commercial cannabis cultivation. Taari-Kohonen said her company is prepared for this requirement, as well.

"It would be easy to organise," she said.

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