Northern Lights

A talk with an Icelandic cannabis activist
27.8.2012
Words by Paul Fontaine
RVK Homegrown, a group seeking to decriminalise and eventually legalise marijuana in Iceland, first made headlines last April with a “smoke-out” held in front of parliament. Since then, the organisation has swelled to over 1,200 members. Örvar Geir Geirsson, one of the founders of the group, recently engaged in an awareness campaign—openly smoking marijuana in front of several government offices, including police headquarters, the Ministry of Welfare and Reykjavík District Court. Örvar Geir tells us more about the group and its aims.

GRASS ROOTS ACTIVISM

What led to the founding of RVK Homegrown?

I started off as a member of an organisation called The Grassroots, which was formed some years ago. However, after it disbanded, I decided to start a new group, with the purpose of supporting cannabis users socialising with one another, as well as to attract those interested in the decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana.

What do you think is wrong with Iceland's drug policy? What would you change about it and how?

I think the problem with Iceland's drug policy is that it's made it a crime to carry or own cannabis. I don't understand why those who are not hurting anyone with their use of cannabis are being punished. I would like to see cannabis decriminalised in Iceland, and fines and jail time for using it brought to an end. I would also like to see, some day, cannabis made completely legal, but sold in special stores, with an age limit such as that used for tobacco and alcohol, as well as information on the strength of each product.

THE LARGEST DRUG DEALER IN THE COUNTRY

You've been fasting and having public "smoke ins" at various public institutions. How has the public responded? The police? The media?

People have been taking this unbelievably well. I've gotten a lot of hugs and well wishes from people on the street. The police told me that a conscious decision had been made to leave me alone. Despite police claims that they are not stalking cannabis users, figures show that the majority of those charged with using or growing cannabis are growing only for themselves or are arrested with a single-use portion of cannabis. These users are then fined, with the threat of prison if they do not pay the largest drug dealer in the country: the government, which oversees the sale of alcohol in stores and the importation of tobacco.

Few members of the media have expressed any interest in this project. It seems as though there's some kind of media blackout over the whole thing. Unfortunately, people in these media seem to have decided that cannabis users aren't worth listening to, as they print headlines like "Addicts on the run" when someone is arrested with a gram of cannabis.

Do you think Iceland will reform its drug policy? If so, do you think it could happen, say, within the next 10 years? What would be required to change public policy?

What is mainly needed is education—that the general public open its eyes and realise that the penal code regarding cannabis does not work, that it does more harm than good. I also believe that when the US legalises cannabis, more nations will follow. It's not a question of if, but when, it is legalised. I hope that it will happen within the next eight years.  

Are there any other countries in the world that you think Iceland could use as a model for drug policy?

Portugal has shown some great results since decriminalisation was enacted, mainly amongst young people. I think Iceland could model itself after them.

LIGHT UP A FAT ONE

How do you respond to those who say marijuana is addictive and should remain illegal?

These people should read up on what they're talking about before they say such nonsense. Those who are against legalisation should also inform themselves better on the pointlessness of the penal code; it does more harm than the substance itself. It is quite possible to be against using cannabis personally but also be against its criminalisation.

What are your plans for the near future?

To keep RVK Homegrown going with the yearly smoke-out in front of parliament, with the addition of a concert and other fun things to do for those who attend... and light up a fat one.



WHAT ARE ICELAND'S MARIJUANA LAWS ANYWAY?


  • According to Narcotics Act 65/1974, the sale, possession and use of marijuana are illegal in Iceland, even in small amounts. The law does not distinguish between different categories of drugs—marijuana is classified the same way as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Simple possession of small amounts usually results in a fine, although the sale of marijuana can land you up to six years in prison.

  • Despite this, Reykjavík Municipality Chief of Police Stefán Eiríksson said in 2007 that marijuana grown in Iceland had been on the rise, with three times as much of cannabis seized within the country than at customs checkpoints. This reflects a reversing trend—about ten years ago, most cannabis products were seized at customs checkpoints.

  • In 2011, the Directorate of Health published an article citing studies in which marijuana was proved to be less addictive than alcohol and tobacco, and that there is no evidence that marijuana necessarily leads to harder drugs, despite claims made to the contrary. Matthías Halldórsson, head of The Directorate, had previously told Morgunblaðið in 2009 that he believed allowing medical use of marijuana in Iceland deserved further investigation.

  • In the meantime, do bear in mind that the police do take marijuana use seriously. If you're caught with even just enough for yourself, you could end up arrested, fined or jailed.





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