Russia Enacts Sweeping Reforms in Drug Laws: No Jail for Possession 5/14/04

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DRCNet reported in March that Russia was on the verge of making dramatic reforms to its draconian drug laws after the Duma passed legislation that would remove criminal penalties and the possibility of jail time for simple drug possession. But then the wheels flew off the whole process as drug warriors within the Russian government attempted to turn the reform on its head by defining the quantities of each drug that would constitute possession for personal use at levels so low as to render the reforms meaningless, or worse. (Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/328/russia.shtml and http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/329/russialaw.shtml for our earlier coverage.)

Now the drug warriors have been fought off, and reformers have managed to get quantities set at levels that will keep hundreds of thousands of Russian drug users out of prison. Under the old law, possession of even a single marijuana cigarette could garner a three-year prison sentence. According to Russian authorities, somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 people are currently serving time for drug offenses.

Russia's Duma
Under the new law -- actually an amendment to the Criminal Code -- which went into effect Wednesday, people possessing no more than 10 times the "average single dose" will no longer be charged with a crime, but an "administrative infraction." Possession of between 10 and 50 times the "average single dose" is punishable by a larger fine and community service, but again, no jail or prison time. Small-scale dealers will find themselves protected against drug trafficking charges by this second provision -- unless they get caught in the act of selling. Punishment for drug sales is increased under the new law.

Here are the critical quantity levels determined by the Russian government in consultation with drug reform groups such as the Russian Harm Reduction Network and the NAN Foundation. These are the quantities that represent ten times the "average single dose," up to which no one can be arrested or criminally charged:

heroin, 1.0 grams
cocaine, 1.5 grams
marijuana, 20.0 grams (dried)
hashish, 5.0 grams
ecstasy, 0.5 grams
methamphetamine, 0.5 grams
mescaline, 0.5 grams
LSD, 0.003 grams
psilocybin, 0.005 grams
The Russian equivalent of the DEA, the Federal Drug Control Service, wanted much lower levels, Vitaly Djuma, head of the Russian Harm Reduction Network, told DRCNet while the levels were being decided. "The agency responsible for setting new doses is the Ministry of Health," said Djuma, "but using its status as a state security agency, the Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS) tried to push through its own determinations where, for example, a single dose of heroin was 0.0001 gram, thus turning all drug users once again into 'drug dealers.' This could not only nullify the humanizing of legislation by the Russian administration but also directly threaten the safety -- and lives -- of millions of Russians who use drugs."

Under the quantities proposed by the FDCS, the "average single dose" of marijuana would be 0.0015 grams. With a standard joint weighing in at about one gram, possession of a single joint would make the possessor subject to penalties for drug dealing because one gram exceeds 50 doses (0.75 grams) by the FDCS standard. Similarly absurd low "average single doses" were set for other drugs as well.

But all that has been undone, and the FDCS is not happy. "Now drug addicts have the right to run around with their pockets full of marijuana, and we can't even detain them," FDCS deputy chief Alexander Mikhailov complained to the newspaper Kommersant Thursday. "The heroin dose is normal for a chronic drug user, but for a regular person it's nonetheless a dose of potassium cyanide. We were categorically against it, but the Justice Ministry simply went crazy chasing its European standards."

An FDCS spokesman was more diplomatic. "It's the law, and we are required to abide by it and enforce it," he told the Moscow Times Thursday.

Drug reformers welcomed the law and the new, improved "average single dose" levels. "This is a brave, humane law," said Lev Levinson, head of New Drug Policies, and one of the people who helped set the new quantities. "Now that police will stop persecuting users, they can start focusing on real threats like large-scale drug trafficking," he told the Times.

Now, if the Russians can only reign in the drug warriors. They were busy repressing the Moscow Million Marijuana March last weekend (see newsbrief this issue).

-- END --
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Issue #337, 5/14/04 Editorial: Always Another Angle | Russia Enacts Sweeping Reforms in Drug Laws: No Jail for Possession | Maryland Treatment Not Jail Bill Signed Into Law | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dying as Government Prepares to Call Elections, Few Mourners | Calls for Sentencing Reform Grow in Arizona | Announcing: "The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War" -- New Compendium by Sheriff Masters Features David Borden and Numerous Other Thinkers on Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Local Prosecutor Tries to Block Atlantic City Needle Exchange, Would Be New Jersey's First | Newsbrief: Pennsylvania Attorney General Hops on Prescription Drug Abuse Bandwagon | Newsbrief: Ohio Appeals Court Upholds City's Harsh Marijuana Penalties | Newsbrief: Congress Defeats Effort to Abolish Cap on US Troops in Colombia | Newsbrief: Anti-Drug Ads Pique Curiosity, Researcher Finds | Newsbrief: Alcohol Prohibition Coming to Nigerian State | Newsbrief: Study Finds "No Increased Risk" for Marijuana-Using Drivers | Newsbrief: Hip-Hop Summit Announces Mass Rally Against Drug War at GOP Convention | Newsbrief: Finnish Green MP Causes Flap with Admission of Cannabis Use | Newsbrief: Million Marijuana Marches, Continued -- Rocking in Rosario, Repression in Russia and Israel | This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Program Coordinator, International Harm Reduction Development Program, OSI | The Reformer's Calendar
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