Finland, the happiest country in the world, and the new EU president, had national elections. Did cannabis have a place in the political debate?

Medical cannabis has been available in its modern form in Finland since 2006 through a judicial decision made during a patient case which went all the way to the Supreme Administrative Court (Mikkonen 2016). Finland was the first Nordic/Baltic country to legally allow some forms of cannabinoid therapeutics, but instead of seizing the opportunity, the country has fallen short in harvesting the full medicinal potential of the plant. 

By way of a bit of a background to this Nordic country and its relation to cannabis, Cannabis indicae herb (Intianhamppu or Indian hemp), was still listed in the Finnish Pharmacopeia in 1937 (Pharmacopoea Fennica 1937: 304-305) but removed from subsequent editions until Sativex® was approved around 2012. Bedrocan® products from the Dutch medical cannabis company are also available but only through a special permit.  

The number of prescriptions for medical cannabis products are still low, despite rising from 57 in 2011 to 223 in 2014 (Eklund 2015) and 373 in 2017 (Malin 2019). The prescription rates fell in 2018 to 269 prescriptions, partly due to governmental authorities adopting a strict approach to the regulation of cannabis as medicine.

Cannabis is a difficult fit in the current medical model and the voice of patients is often forgotten in the debate. A recent article by Suomen Kuvalehti revealed that Finnish medical authorities and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) have pressured doctors to discontinue prescriptions on the grounds that there is not sufficient evidence or clinical guidelines for using cannabis as medicine.

In addition to prescription holders, in 2017 there were an estimated 2000-5000 cannabis users in Finland who used cannabis for medical reasons without a prescription (Hakkarainen & Karjalainen 2017, p. 23). Cannabis also remains the most used “illegal drug”; according to a recent national survey 24 per cent have at least tried cannabis in their lifetime. 42 per cent of Finns think the use of cannabis should not have criminal penalties and 72 per cent think cannabis should be allowed at least for medical use.

In addition to prescription holders, in 2017 there were an estimated 2000-5000 cannabis users in Finland who used cannabis for medical reasons without a prescription (Hakkarainen & Karjalainen 2017, p. 23). Cannabis also remains the most used “illegal drug”; according to a recent national survey 24 per cent have at least tried cannabis in their lifetime. 42 per cent of Finns think the use of cannabis should not have criminal penalties and 72 per cent think cannabis should be allowed at least for medical use.