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Finland's parliament to consider cannabis decriminalisation

Most of the initiative's supporters came forward at the last minute.

Kansalaisaloite kannabiksen käytön rangaistavuuden poistamiseksi haluaisi lakiin muutoksen, jonka myötä kannabiskasveja saisi kasvattaa kotona korkeintaan neljää kasvia kerrallaan. Kuvassa kannabiskasvi Australiassa kuvattuna.
File photo of cannabis plant. Image: Darren England / EPA

A citizens' initiative calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis use is headed to parliament for consideration by MPs.

The initiative received the required 50,000 signatures on Thursday evening, which means the document can now be handed to Finnish MPs for consideration.

The initiative calls for the decriminalisation of possession, use and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis.

Most of the support came in the final days of the initiative, which was started at the beginning of May. At the beginning of October the initiative had less than half of the needed signatures, but support surged over the past week in the run-up to the initiative's deadline, 1 November.

The main sponsor of the initiative, activist Janne Karvinen, said he was not surprised about the last-minute boost in support.

"People usually leave things to the last minute. We've been promoting this recently and getting our message out on social media. There's certainly more than 50,000 - or even more than 100,000 - people in Finland who support this issue," Karvinen told Yle on Wednesday evening as the initiative still only had garnered around 41,000 signatures.

Karvinen said decriminalising cannabis is warranted because prohibition of the drug hasn't worked.

"Primarily, punishing [the use of cannabis] does more harm than good. It promotes social exclusion and [convictions for cannabis possession] can hinder a person's access to jobs or study spots," he explained.

Changing attitudes

Oulu-based newspaper Kaleva reported in July that people convicted of minor drug offences are barred from the ability to study or work across more than 60 sectors. According to the paper, the chief physician of substance abuse centre A-Clinic as well as a research professor from the National Institute for Health and Welfare both suggested that the country should decriminalise drug use.

Earlier this month Finland’s Supreme Court ruled that motorists will likely not be charged for driving under the influence days after using cannabis.

Karvinen said he thinks it is possible that Finnish Parliament would pass the measures called for in the citizens' initiative.

"I believe that MPs do not want to oppose the benefits [decriminalisation] would bring," he said, noting that Prime Minister's government programme also mentioned substance abuse policy reforms.

Several European countries have already decriminalised cannabis use and it is legal in many states in the US. On Thursday, one of the Democratic front-runners in the US Presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders, unveiled his own plans to legalise cannabis nationwide, calling for an end to the "destructive war on drugs."

Canada legalised the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis last year

However a Finnish researcher on drug policy from the University of Lapland, Mika Luoma-aho, said he thinks Finnish lawmakers will reject the initiative.

"I don't think Parliament is ready to accept it. But it will force a debate on the issue. I want to hear the discussion that quashes the initiative and then continue the dialogue on that basis," Luoma-aho said.

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