Under a new law that came into effect in Russia this week, drug users can possess a greatly increased amount of an illegal substance -- for instance, 20 grams of marijuana or 1.5 grams of cocaine -- without the risk of being thrown in jail.

The law has been criticized by the Federal Anti-Drug Service, which says it hampers the battle against drugs, but praised by those who work to rehabilitate drug addicts, who predict more addicts will now seek help.

President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the Criminal Code in December stipulating that possession of no more than 10 times the amount of a "single dose" would now be considered an administrative infraction rather than a criminal offense. Punishment would be a fine of no more than 40,000 rubles ($1,380) or community service.

It then took five months to hammer out what would be considered the single dose of various drugs.

Ten times the amount of a single dose, as set in the government resolution that came into effect Wednesday, is 20 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish, mescaline or opium, 1.5 grams of cocaine, 1 gram of heroin or methamphetamine, and 0.003 grams of LSD.

Anyone caught in possession of these amounts or less cannot legally be detained, a spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Federal Anti-Drug Service said. Instead, a report will be filed and the fine will be determined by a court.

This is a major change. Under the old standards, someone caught with 0.1 grams of marijuana, for instance, could be punished by incarceration.

Foreigners, even those with deep pockets, should still take the new law seriously, however. Yelena Zhigayeva, a lawyer at the Moscow law firm Haarmann Hemmelrath & Partner, said that by law foreigners who violate Russian drug laws, even if it is only an administrative infraction, can be expelled from the country or denied re-entry.

Alexander Mikhailov, deputy head of the Federal Anti-Drug Service, was indignant about the resolution.

"The heroin dose is normal for a chronic drug user, but for a regular person it's nonetheless a dose of potassium cyanide," Mikhailov was quoted as saying in Kommersant on Thursday. "We were categorically against it, but the Justice Ministry simply went crazy chasing its European standards.

"Now drug addicts have the right to run around with their pockets full of marijuana, and we can't even detain them."

A spokesman for the Federal Anti-Drug Service was more diplomatic. "It's the law, and we are required to abide by it and enforce it," he said by telephone.

The amounts for single doses were recommended by a group formed by the State Duma's Legislative Committee that included representatives from the Health, Justice and Interior ministries, the FSB and several NGOs.

Lev Levinson, head of New Drug Policy, an advocacy group for drug law reform, was the coordinator of the group. "This is a brave, humane law," Levinson said. "Now that police will stop persecuting users, they can start focusing on real threats like large-scale drug trafficking."

Vitaly Zhumagaliyev, head of the Moscow bureau of Harm Reduction, which works to rehabilitate drug addicts, said the new law will provide a boost to his organization's activities.

By Carl Schreck
Staff Writer

Moscow Times http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2004/05/14/011.html
? Copyright 2004, The Moscow Times.