Russia Liberalizes Drug Policy

A new Russian drug policy is aimed at keeping small-time drug offenders out of prison, the New York Times reported June 13.

“It is a liberalization of thinking, and in this sense it is a revolution,” said Dr. Oleg Zykov, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Human Rights Commission and president of No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, a non-governmental organization counseling drug users.

For years, people convicted of possessing small amounts of illegal drugs received harsh penalties. For instance, having five-thousandths of a gram of heroin was defined by the police and courts as possessing a “large” amount of the drug, and was punishable with a prison sentence. But Zykov said, “We are talking about dust.”

Under the new policy, possession of up to 10 doses of illegal substances for personal use is subject to fines. A new table of weights developed by a special commission defines 10 doses of heroin as a gram. The new policies also define the threshold for cocaine as one and a half grams and for marijuana as 20 grams, or more than half an ounce.

“It brings the criminal regulations in the country closer to those accepted by the world community,” said Alexander Petrov of Human Rights Watch.

Drug-treatment specialists said the new policy would reduce prison overcrowding and the spread of infectious diseases, which are often contracted in prisons.