By Avinash Tharoor

Experts from the Finnish government’s leading health agency have called for the decriminalisation of all drug use, igniting a debate that has drawn in top politicians and police authorities.

The call was made by two senior members of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos – THL), which operates under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. On February 13, Professor Pekka Hakkarainen – the head of THL’s Alcohol, Drugs, and Addictions Unit, and Tuukka Tammi – a senior researcher at the institute, wrote an article calling for all drug use to be decriminalised across the country. The experts said that ending criminal sanctions for drug use would reduce the marginalisation of young people, and encourage people who use drugs to engage with health and social services.

“There should be an extensive public debate about the necessity of punishment for drug use [...] Criminal sanctions work poorly in the prevention of drug use and related harms, [and are] also ill-suited to the values of today's society, and to public health thinking,” they argue in the article. “In a situation where a drug user does not have to fear punishment or criminal imprisonment, it is much easier to offer [support]. Also, the discussion of drug use in various services - such as healthcare - would become more natural for both parties if drug use were no longer labelled as criminal behaviour”.