This article was originally published on Talking Drugs.
An Icelandic MP has proposed legislation to legally regulate cannabis, in a bid to reduce the potential harms of the drug, as well as the harms of prohibition.
On September 20, MP Pawel Bartoszek proposed a bill that would legally regulate the cultivation, transportation, sale, and use of cannabis, and allow the creation of retail stores and cafes where cannabis could be bought and consumed.
The proposal also denotes strict regulations for the envisioned legal cannabis market; sale and use would be restricted to those aged 20 and over, alcohol would be prohibited in venues that sell cannabis, and advertising of cannabis products would be banned. Additionally, cannabis products would be sold in plain-packaging which would include clear details of health risks; a practice already enforced for tobacco products in many countries. As Bartoszek has said, the regulations in his bill are based on guidance in How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide, a publication from UK drugs thinktank Transform.
As the publication describes, preventing cannabis advertising is an important step – due to lessons learned from current legal drugs. “There is a well-established link between exposure to alcohol and tobacco marketing, branding and advertising and increased use of those drugs”, the guide states, “[so] it is reasonable to assume similar marketing would drive an expansion in use of cannabis”.
Bartoszek is an MP from the liberal Reform Party (Viðreisn), one of three parties in Iceland’s current ruling coalition. In a blog post on his website, he described legally regulating cannabis as a means of “real harm reduction, based on a scientific approach”. He lamented the estimated 1,000 people prosecuted for cannabis offences in Iceland each year, and pointed to support for drug law reform from esteemed world leaders, such as Kofi Annan.
Bartoszek noted that decriminalisation – whereby the possession and use of cannabis would no longer be an offence, but the production and sale of cannabis would continue to be illegal – would be a progressive step. However, he emphasised that only legal regulation could effectively reduce the harms of cannabis, as it would allow the state to “supervise production, manage accessibility, protect children and young people, and tax the consumption”.
Despite erroneous reporting from the Telegraph, Washington Post, and other sources, Iceland does not have the highest rate of cannabis use in the world – although cannabis continues to enjoy a moderate level popularity in the country. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that around 6.6 per cent of Icelandic adults (aged 18 – 67) use cannabis at least once a year. This is around the same figure as that of England and Wales (6.5 per cent), but considerably lower than that of the United States (16.5 per cent).
Bartoszek has already gained support for his bill from another Viðreisn MP, and two MPs from the Pirate Party. However, it is unclear if there is sufficient political support in Parliament for the legislation to progress.
A 2016 survey suggested that the Icelandic public firmly oppose the legal regulation of cannabis – with almost 77 per cent claiming to be against it. While resistance to reform appears high, the poll results marked a gradual realignment from a 2011 poll – in which 87 per cent opposed legalisation.
Avinash Tharoor is Policy and Communications Director at Release. Tweets @AvinashTharoor