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Justice minister sceptical about cannabis decriminalisation

The government agenda calls for drug policy reform, but the minister does not see decriminalisation as the way forward.

Hamppu kasvaa tolpan juuressa eduskunnan lisärakennuksen Pikkuparlamentin läheisyydessä syyskuussa 2015.
A marijuana plant growing on a sidewalk near the Finnish Parliament Annex in September 2015. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson takes a dim view of a citizens' initiative calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis use.

On Thursday, the initiative received 50,000 certified signatures from Finnish citizens. That means the document must now be submitted to Parliament for consideration. As of Sunday the initiative had gathered more than 57,000 signatures since being launched last spring.

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Oikeusministeri Anna-Maja Henriksson
Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The wording calls for the decriminalisation of possession, use and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis, with a number of restrictions. It would not however legalise the sale of cannabis.

"This is a difficult question, an extremely difficult question," says Henriksson, the Swedish People's Party chair who has served as justice minister under three prime ministers.

She notes that the government programme adopted in June calls in general for reform of the nation's substance abuse policies, but Henriksson does not see the debate over marijuana usage as part of this reform.

"I do not believe that it is most important to decriminalise the use of cannabis, but rather to [seek] a more effective substance abuse policy," she told Yle.

Henriksson says she would take a positive view of medical use, but considers youth and the proliferation of drug consumption to be a more essential issue, suggesting that cannabis can be a gateway to harder drugs and more serious problems.

"Under no circumstances should this perspective be forgotten in this discussion. Additionally, drug use appears to shifting to ever-younger age groups, and not only in large cities. I am concerned about how we can reverse this trend. "Unfortunately I do not believe that this is now the way," says Henriksson.

Henriksson says that the Finnish government does not feel any international pressure to change its laws in this regard.

"We do not have any policy outlined in the government agenda that would support this," she adds.

Meri: "Open to hearing the reasons why"

The chair of the Legal Affairs Committee, Leena Meri of the opposition Finns Party, expects her panel to consider the initiative.

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Leena Meri
Leena Meri Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

This will take time, though, she says, noting that the committee has many other issues to weigh, including two other citizens' initiatives. Meri expects deliberations on the marijuana issue to begin sometime next year.

She too takes a sceptical view of the document, and declined to speculate on how the committee will see it.

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Kansanedustaja Iiris Suomela (vihr.) eduskunnan täysistunnossa Helsingissä 18. syyskuuta.
At 24, Iiris Suomela is the youngest MP. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

"I have not asked other committee members about their opinions, but I myself inherently take an rather sceptical view of liberalisation of any part of the Narcotics Act – but I am open to hearing the reasons why some would want to do so," Meri told Yle.

A few politicians from the five government parties, meanwhile, have welcomed the initiative.

They include MP Iiris Suomela from the Greens, who noted in a tweet on Friday that both the World Health Organisation and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) have both recommended an end to criminal penalties for drug use. In February 2018, the THL published a blog post entitled "The punishability of drug use should end".

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