Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

June 13, 2004 - The New York Times (NY)

Russia Seeks Balance In Drug-Use Sentencing

By C.J. Chivers

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

MOSCOW - Vladimir Loginov, 25 years old but with the tired eyes of a man much older, sat reading the Russian criminal code and explaining his fate. He had been arrested on the streets here in 1999, accused of possessing roughly a quarter gram of heroin.

He spent five years and two months in prison. By the time he left, he had contracted tuberculosis.

Under a new Russian drug policy, such a bleak journey through the country's penal system for small-scale drug possession has become much less likely.

After years of harsh penalties for people convicted of possessing small amounts of illegal drugs, Russia has liberalized policies underpinning the law. The effect is not legalization, or even free-spirited tolerance. No one mistakes Moscow for Amsterdam. Possession of small amounts of illicit substances remains punishable by fines, and possession of larger amounts or drug trafficking risks prison.

But the new policies restore a balance between crime and punishment and protect small-time drug offenders - those caught with up to 10 doses of illicit substances for personal use - from prison and its associated risks. Drug treatment specialists and aid workers describe the change as a breakthrough that could alleviate prison overcrowding and perhaps the spread of infectious diseases.

"It is a liberalization of thinking, and in this sense it is a revolution," said Dr. Oleg V. Zykov, a member of President Vladimir V. Putin's Human Rights Commission and president of No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, a nongovernmental organization counseling drug users.

In theory, Russian drug laws already worked much like many laws in the West, delineating drug crimes by degree. Suspects were charged according to the amounts of drugs they were accused of possessing, with progressively stiffer penalties for larger quantities.

In practice, however, it had been almost impossible for a suspect to be classified as a small-time user.

To determine charges, the police and courts used a table of weights to classify charges, and critics said weights were set absurdly low. For example, a "large" amount of heroin, punishable with imprisonment, was five-thousandths of a gram. "We are talking about dust," Dr. Zykov said.

Such policies seemed at odds with the spirit of the law. "The will of the legislators was distorted," said Lev Levinson, head of New Drug Policy, a nongovernmental organization. Last year Mr. Putin signed a law amending drug-possession charges, allowing possession of up to 10 doses before risking imprisonment. This spring a special commission compiled a table of weights defining 10 doses of heroin as a gram. The threshold for cocaine is a gram and a half. For marijuana, it is 20 grams - more than half an ounce.

The table took effect last month by resolution from Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov, to the praise of organizations sometimes critical of Russian practices. "It brings the criminal regulations in the country closer to those accepted by the world community," said Alexander Petrov of Human Rights Watch.

Still, the new practice has divided elements of the government. Last year Aleksandr Mikhailov, deputy head of the federal antidrug agency, called drugs "weapons of mass destruction." When Prime Minister Fradkov released the new standards, Mr. Mikhailov railed against them.

Drug use here is generally considered less common than in the West. Alcoholism remains the dominant addiction. But drug use has sharply increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the authorities say, and the spread of heroin injection, with its contribution to a surge in H.I.V. cases, is particularly worrisome.

The problem seems unlikely to wane. Mr. Putin noted this week that heroin trafficking into Russia from Afghanistan had increased since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001.

With heroin having become a permanent part of Russian life, advocates expressed hope that the new law might allow for the release of many small-time drug users now in prison, reducing the risks of exposure to H.I.V. and tuberculosis, which are often contracted in jails. By one survey, as many as 65,000 people were imprisoned under the old law, Dr. Zykov and Mr. Levinson said.

Aid workers also say the law may help reduce the corruption they say surrounds arrests of the indigent and the young, Mr. Loginov, who insists he was framed by police officers who planted heroin in his clothes and apartment, said the new table would make it more difficult to rig cases. "With these new amounts, this won't happen anymore," he said.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact