Finland’s government will soon consider decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use after advocates garnered more than the required 50,000 petition signatures to trigger a review by Parliament.
The proposals stipulates that possession of 25 grams or less of cannabis, and the cultivation of up to four plants, would not carry criminal penalties.
Only one plant could be dried at a time, as a typical plant yields about as much cannabis as would be permitted for personal possession under the petition.
Kasvua Kannabiksesta, the group behind the measure, started the signature gathering process in May, but it amassed most of its signatures in the last month, crediting a social media campaign for the success, according to Yle.
Yesterday our campaign in Finland reached historical 50 thousand signatures for a #cannabis #decriminalisation referendum. Which means it has to be at least discussed in the parliament, hopefully turned into a law.
Happened on @UN Day.
— KasvuaKannabiksesta2020 (@KasvuaK) October 25, 2019
“People usually leave things to the last minute. We’ve been promoting this recently and getting our message out on social media,” activist Janne Karvinen said. “There’s certainly more than 50,000—or even more than 100,000—people in Finland who support this issue.”
The measure calls for new penalties for individuals who consume marijuana in a public space where children are present.
“Current policies have not succeeded in achieving their goal of harm reduction,” a translated explanation of the petition states. “The prohibition on the use and possession of cannabis is mainly motivated by the creation of anti-drug [propaganda]. In practice, only a minority of users are randomly targeted by [prohibition]. Maintaining it wastes police resources and harms users.”
Imposing criminal penalties, even minor ones, on cannabis consumers is harmful because misdemeanor offenses stay on people’s records, the advocates said. They also cited Portugal’s broader drug decriminalization model as an example of effective policy that has reduced overdoses and rates of HIV.
The group also said that simply decriminalizing marijuana, rather than legalizing it, means that Finland would remain compliant with United Nations (UN) obligations that technically prohibit member nations from allowing cannabis to be lawfully regulated and sold—though those international treaties have not stopped countries like Canada and Uruguay from enacting legalization as a practical matter.
“Decriminalization means the remove of the criminal record of an act that is illegal and punishable,” the proposal says. “In decriminalization, the ban on an act may not be completely abolished or made legal, but the punishment for the act will be abolished or the act will be transformed into a mere offense, for example, a fine.”
In any case, just because Finnish lawmakers are now required to formally debate and consider decriminalization does not necessarily mean that they will enact it.
That said, there’s growing interest in pursuing decriminalization across the globe, including for drugs other than cannabis. Scotland’s ruling party voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for the removal of criminal penalties for drug possession in this month. A top lawmaker in Mexico endorsed going further by legalizing all drugs as a means to curb cartel violence. And a committee in the United Kingdom also issued a report in favor of the policy change this week.
Meanwhile, Canada celebrated its first year anniversary of the implementation of a legal marijuana market this month. Mexican lawmakers are working through legislation to legalize the plant following a Supreme Court ruling that deemed prohibition of personal possession and cultivation unconstitutional.