Thursday, June 13, 2019

Could Moscow Decriminalize or Even Legalize Marijuana in Wake of Golunov Case?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – The popular outcry against the planting of drugs on Ivan Golunov in order to bring criminal charges against him may have the unexpected consequence of giving added impetus to proposals to decriminalize or even legalize personal marijuana use in the Russian Federation, Natalya Mikhaleva of the URA news agency says.

            She says that proposals of this kind had already been circulating in the Duma and that now they are likely to be taken up more readily. So far, these bills only call for reducing or eliminating penalties for using soft drugs like marijuana. But experts say that Moscow might then move to full legalization of such drugs (

            One bill calls for cutting maximum punishments in half, from ten years imprisonment to five; and it has already attracted support from the FSB, the Procuracy general and the Interior Ministry. Experts like Igor Burmistrov who consults for the prison system says punishments should be cut to no more than two or three years and not involve prison time.

            “The longer someone is in prison, the more harm,” he says. 

            Kirill Titayev, a St. Petersburg specialist on crime at St. Petersburg’s European University, calls for complete decriminalization of soft drugs Such a step would save money – far fewer people would be incarcerated – and would benefit society by reducing the number of people processing through the legal system (

            He says that statistics from other countries show that there are few or no downsides from legalization.  Sergey Dugin, head of the Humanitarian Action Foundation, agrees and favors complete decriminalization. But some worry that marijuana will become a gateway drug and that legalization will suggest to more than society approves of drug use.

            Dmitry Orlov, a Moscow political scientist, and Yury Sinelshikov, first deputy head of the state building committee of the Duma, say that it is a mistake to link moves toward decriminalization with Golunov. Officials were already moving toward those ends before that case, which in any event reflected problems with law enforcement rather than laws about drugs.

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