The Green Dragon - Interview with Tuomas Karhunen Part IV
Last week, Tuomas Karhunen told how he ended up becoming a medical cannabis advocate. In this week's interview, we talk more about how that and metal go together, Finnish society, activism and the challenges he is and could be facing due to his work.
The Metal Phenomenon: How have the families you deal with in your activist life reacted to you being a tattooed metal musician?
Tuomas Karhunen: When on “cannabis duty” type of work, I usually hide the tattoos by wearing a suit (laughs). Actually, due to this I’ve began to really like all-black men’s suits and nowadays I use them while off-duty as well. After like 20 years of wearing only leather jackets, army boots and bullet belts it feels refreshing, you know?
I’m kind of kidding about the need to cover tattoos. But seriously speaking, most of them don’t really know about my career as a musician or they don’t care about it. But I think I will face that in the near future, because things are escalating fast and there’s going to be a lot more visibility in the media related to this cannabis stuff in Finland. But I have been trying to keep those worlds as separate as possible. From the patients or their families, mostly I have just gotten “Oh cool, you play in a band” response. No big deal.
And I have to say, that in the music scene it mostly has been a very positive response. It’s funny that in the past two years people have come to me e.g. when I play at a festival, saying how cool it is what I am doing with Vihreä Lohikäärme [Ed. The Green Dragon, Finnish Cannabis online community, founded by Tuomas].
Doing cannabis-related work at a café in Kuopio.
TMP: Has your metal side been used by your opponents to discredit you? In Finland that might be less of a problem but if you think e.g. in the US metal as evil music would probably be used to attack you.
T: I have tried to keep the MMA interest, music, and the cannabis stuff separate.
But as I’d like to think that I already have done some things at least in Finland, which have made a small difference. Although mostly so far it has been more of building these things, my own little masterplan, getting ammunition – it's going to get more public soon. In order to expose the people who are making the decisions and creating the laws, to expose the people in charge of this corrupt system. So far they have avoided receiving a ton of shit and the legal consequences they deserve.
So far, I have been creating a little annoyance for them indirectly; I have been in the background with some mainstream media appearances, giving information, and then the mainstream media has brought these problems and questionable reasonings of some doctors or professors to public light.
But once I get a bigger platform, that’s when “the good stuff” starts to pop up, and that is actually the next step on the way where I want and need to go. The real issues need to go to the debates on TV level, and when that communication is not one-sided anymore, when I get to the same table as them, this might appear.
Usually their way to discredit someone is to attack the credibility of the person, to create this insulting terminology that you can associate with negative things – I have seen that e.g. with academia. When something comes outside of the mainstream academic view, whatever it is, it gets immediately insulted and verbally attacked. In my case, I guess it would be a very easy bait to go for Satan worshipping, corpse paint and blood.
I’m looking forward to being discredited like that, because that would indicate that I’d be hitting them where it hurts. And I don’t mind being insulted or discredited or whatever, as I hear I actually have a steadily increasing number of Internet haters, I seem to be a bad person anyways (laughs).
Seriously speaking, I think if you have passionate haters it means you’re doing something right. I just follow my heart, wherever it takes me.
TMP: Why do you think Finland as a country with its government and politics is so scared of cannabis when most of the world is moving into a different direction?
T: There is not a direct answer to that for there are many reasons. The Finnish culture with alcohol and its heavy use is definitely one thing… I would like to say, that partly it’s kind of inefficient work on the activist front as well, in the way that things have been done here.
The spokespersons have been a little bit inefficient perhaps. Other things are definitely misinformation, and one is the Finnish mindset that we obey authority a lot and if the doctors say something, this is the way it is, period. Also, the lack of modern scientific cannabis information in Finnish language is the biggest one, I think. Because a little bit older people do not speak English that well, especially if it’s some scientific articles and such, so they rely totally on the Finnish news, the Finnish media which has been totally silent or mainly negative about the whole topic.
So, people are still basing their views only on what they heard when they were kids at school when they heard all this propaganda. That is changing so fast now, and the most efficient way to make this change happen is to publish and spread information in Finnish. So, that’s what I’m focusing on mainly with my news site.
And I tell you, it’s going to change quite fast here. During these two years that I have been doing this the tone in the public discussion has already changed, and the majority is now talking about science and about the facts, and these overtly negative people are already in the minority.
And it was the other way around two years ago.
TMP: So, you are kind of optimistic about the development in future?
T: Yeah, I’m not planning to do this for the rest of my life.
Well, let me put a little jab to the whole Finnish cannabis scene as well – I think there’s a bit of a similar mindset as the substance abuse institutions have: that there needs to be a problem with substances, there needs to be a drug problem for them to have a job and keep getting funded.
I think it’s a little bit the same with certain, not all, long-term activists. That cannabis needs to be illegal, otherwise there is no need for activism and you cannot have some pompous organizational title as your status symbol. I see it everywhere. There are these pitfalls with an organization model, that it just becomes a status symbol, and the function turns from actually making changes to just run in circles…
TMP:…a self-serving machine…
T: Yes, exactly. I see that on both sides of the legalization, pro and con. But with my organization, its intention is to make itself unnecessary. So, I am predicting a fast change, faster than many people would think.
TMP: You mentioned the aspect of illegality - does that scare you and how do you deal with that, that you do things that might put you on the map of authorities?
T: I am aware of that. In a way I think I have the capability that, if something happens, I can make it aid the cause. So, I don’t stress about that. I kind of get my kicks from that. First of all, I am so deep in this rabbit hole that I think it’s a crime against humanity that medical marihuana is illegal, or that it’s kept intentionally out of patients’ reach only due to bribery and lobbying.
Of course, you have to think about the youth. Hardcore drugs and illegal substances is a very big topic but if we simply talk about cannabis – it is such a harmless plant, and the safest substance that you can use to alter your consciousness. To have cannabis as a legal alternative to alcohol, I do not see any moral wrong in that.
The second thing is that I embrace my new job and this kind of new life fully. I am making the rest of my life looking more like me, and a part of it is doing this now. I get some kind of satisfaction from being so concretely being against the political structures. This is my place at the moment in the political spectrum; civil disobedience. There, we come to the rebellion theme again.
Backstage at Helsinki Hemp & Herb Exhibition 2017, where Tuomas was the host / narrator. (Photo by Irin Taras)
TMP: If that doesn’t scare you, what in your new life does? What are the things you are battling with?
T: At the moment when I had some kind of heart symptoms [Ed. earlier this January], due to many things, I noticed thinking only about perhaps not being able to train MMA. And that thought really scared me. I’m in the middle of getting my heart examined thoroughly and still hoping it turns out to be some stress-related symptoms.
When we talk about cage fighting itself, that makes me a bit nervous, I am afraid to get my nose broken but that is more of being curious of how it will go.
But what I am truly afraid of is not to be able to do what I want in life. When I got these blood pressure and cardiac symptoms, the thought that I would have some kind of medical condition that would prevent me from training or competing, participating in that world that I have fallen in love with so much, that I am drawn to so much. That is a scary thought. But fortunately, at least it seems that I do not have any kind of severe condition, but perhaps some hereditary illness. We’ll see and I’ll keep on blogging about it, for sure.
TMP: With all that is going on in your life how do you focus and make sure that you take care of yourself?
T: This MMA thing is exactly the outlet for that. Everybody tells me that “you have to take care of yourself also,” and I kind of have been saying to myself: “when I get to the MMA and the physical training, then I focus on living healthy.” So during these two years of ignoring my MMA goals and working non-stop with cannabis, I have gambled with my wellbeing a little bit too much.
I’m kind of an obsessive person, so when I noticed that my cannabis writings caught fire and that its growing fast, I just put 200 % on that and worked non-stop. Like 70 hours a week or even more. That’s where I need to learn to balance. Using this ADHD enthusiasm as a fuel, learning to control it and not just letting it burn because then it burns you out, and that is something I am very glad I managed to avoid.
Last year I almost hit a wall, my father’s accidental and slow death in the middle of everything brought me a little bit too close to the edge. But I hope that I’ve learned from that and now I take the training, rest and my well-being seriously.
That is something I need to learn, and one more reason why I’m doing this MMA challenge is to create a permanent life style change. To return to balance through this extreme challenge and training, to see how it is for a professional athlete, trying to emulate the intensity with the workouts, eating healthy and living with discipline.
I’ve been living a somewhat over-hectic lifestyle all this decade, and I’ve been very merciless towards myself all my life. So to me, finding a permanent healthy, balanced lifestyle and learning how to sometimes forgive myself sound like extreme goals. Worthy of pursuit.
Check out Part V, where Tuomas talks about the future.