This article was originally published on 2Fast4Buds and appears here with permission. Russia used to be one of the world’s leading hemp producers. Now it has strict cannabis laws, and penalties are harsh for those caught using it. Read more. Moscow’s harsh drug laws are under the spotlight following the American basketball star’s arrest.
Weed In Russia: Cannabis Legal Status Guide
This article was originally published on 2Fast4Buds and appears here with permission.
1. CANNABIS LAWS IN RUSSIA
Home to over 144 million people, The Russian Federation is Europe’s largest country by both land mass and population. But is there access to legal weed in Russia? Notorious for its totalitarian regimes of the past, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that cannabis is, in fact, illegal in Russia. Indeed, the country is known for having the highest number of people currently imprisoned (per capita) for drug offenses in Europe.
Indeed, as you might expect, the Russian government is known for taking a particularly hard line with both the possession and use of cannabis. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at Russia’s weed laws but before we get deep into the details, let’s start with the basics.
In accordance with the country’s Criminal Code, the possession of cannabis is punishable with a fine and/or a prison sentence. However, a change to the law in 2012 allowed for the potential for penalties to be deferred if the offender is found to suffer from addiction issues. Those found to be in possession of small quantities of up to six grams will fall foul of Russian administrative law, punishable by a fine or short prison sentence of two weeks. However, those found in possession of more than seven grams will face more serious criminal charges.
Penalties for cannabis use in Russia could result in a long prison sentence.
As you might expect, those serious charges carry severe punishments, and if you want to be entirely safe from the possibility of criminal charges, it is recommended not to carry anything above 1gram of cannabis, as authorities have been known to exaggerate the amount of cannabis found on potential suspects. Indeed, getting caught with weed in Russia is definitely not a good idea. So consider the vast penalty for weed in Russia before firing one up in Red Square!
- A fine of up to 40,000 roubles (around 600 euros)
- Compulsory labour for up to 480 hours
- Corrective labour for up to two years
- Potential Prison sentence of up to three years.
For those found guilty of being involved in larger-scale operations, the penalties are even stiffer, with a fine of up to 500,000 roubles (around 7000 euros) and a potential prison sentence of up to twelve years. Given all that, possession or using cannabis in Russia is just not worth it, but despite the risks, it is thought that as many as 8.5 million people still consume the plant on a regular basis. For those who are caught, the chances of avoiding serious penalties are remarkably slim, with the acquittal rate currently standing at just 0.1%.
Much like possession, the sale of cannabis is also considered to be a serious offense, and anyone caught selling the plant can expect a range of similarly harsh sentences. Even small-time operators can expect to lose their liberty (house arrest or potential prison sentence) for several years.
Large-scale operations have resulted in heavier sentences of up to twelve years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000,000 roubles. Indeed, should the operation be part of a wider network of organized crime, offenders could even find themselves facing a sentence of up to twenty years. Despite the draconian laws and stiff penalties, drug trafficking, including that of cannabis, remains a significant concern in the Russian Federation.
Unsurprisingly, the cultivation of cannabis is also illegal in Russia. Much the same as the punishments for possession or sale, marijuana cultivation in Russia is a particularly risky business, with prison sentences an inevitability, even for those found to be in possession of only a small number of plants.
It is illegal to grow cannabis in Russia.
Despite Russia’s hard-line approach to cannabis usage, there has been some positive movement politically. Back in the summer of 2019, a bill was passed by the Russian government that potentially allowed for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, as of yet, the bill has yet to be signed into law and progress on the issue remains deadlocked for the time being.
2. IS CBD LEGAL IN RUSSIA?
In a word, NO. CBD in Russia is illegal, irrespective of the THC levels contained within the product. Even CBD oil made from hemp is considered an illegal narcotic, while it is not even possible to have CBD products shipped into Russia by mail. Indeed, the recent case of US female basketball player Brittney Griner arrested for possessing hashish oil illegal in Russia highlights the dangers of possessing these kinds of products inside Russian borders.
3. IS IT LEGAL TO SEND CANNABIS SEEDS TO RUSSIA?
No surprises here – Cannabis seeds are also illegal and may not be sent into or out of the country.
4. MEDICINAL CANNABIS IN RUSSIA
Despite the 2019 bill mentioned earlier, the use of medical cannabis in Russia remains illegal. Still considered to be in the highest category of narcotic and psychoactive substances within the country, Russian medical cannabis access remains strictly forbidden. List I substances, including that of cannabis, are subject to the strictest governmental regulation.
Despite the amended law, medicinal cannabis is still illegal in Russia.
In July 2019, the Russian government amended the Law on Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances. It partially legalized the cultivation of plants containing drugs for manufacturing narcotics and psychoactive substances for medical or veterinary use. The regulation was expected to partially allow the cultivation of cannabis for medical or veterinary use, but to date, nothing has materialized in this regard. Given all that, medical cannabis remains inaccessible in Russia, and that seems unlikely to change in the near future, given the current circumstances the country currently faces.
5. INDUSTRIAL HEMP IN RUSSIA
Russia once relied heavily on hemp as a crop. In fact, hemp fiber constituted one of the primary sources of income for many parts of the country during the 18th century. Indeed, hemp had been an essential commodity in Russia for hundreds of years, with the country becoming the largest producer in the world midway through the eighteenth century. At this point, it is estimated that around 80% of the hemp used in Europe came from Russia, with the material proving more lucrative for Russians than even metal, wood, or fur.
Moving into the nineteenth century, the UK relied heavily on Russian hemp, which resulted in a so-called hemp war with Napoleon. However, by 1807, the French agreed on a peace treaty with Tsar Alexander I on the condition that the Soviets would stop supplying hemp to the UK.
Cannabis hemp plants.
However, the agreement proved-short lived, and just a few years later, the hemp trade between Russia and the UK had reemerged. Angered by the Russian betrayal, Napoleon would lead his army to Moscow in 1812 in a bid to take control of the Russian hemp supply. However, Napoleon’s army was swiftly overwhelmed, and the Russians maintained control over their lucrative hemp industry. Indeed, around 40% of European hemp was produced by Russia until the nineteenth century.
However, as Russia moved into the twentieth century, the hemp trade would decline significantly both because of negative perceptions of the plant (what else is new) and because of the reduced acreage and relatively low yields. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, hemp cultivation would decline further. Yet, despite the decline in the industry, hemp was never illegalized and is still grown in the country today. While there were once sixteen hemp farms cultivating hemp, today, just one exists in Volkhov.
However, despite the industrial decline, it is estimated that there are roughly 2.5 million hectares of wild hemp growing in the east of the country in and around the Black Sea.
6. HISTORY AND POLITICS
Russia has a long relationship with the marijuana plant, with evidence existing that suggests cannabis was being used in the country thousands of years ago. An archaeological dig at a burial site in the Altai Mountains revealed that the country’s people consumed the plant for medicinal, religious, or spiritual purposes. It is thought that the plant first entered the country with the Scythians, a nomadic group known for transporting cannabis as they moved throughout many different countries thousands of years ago.
Despite its rich history with the plant, Russia remains very much anti-cannabis in its approach today. As we have explained in this article, the Russian approach to cannabis remains extremely hard-line, with the penalty for weed in Russia some of the harshest across Europe. Indeed, the Russian stance on their opposition to cannabis has been self-evident, with the government’s response to Canada’s legalization of the plant being that the Canadians had “deliberately decided to breach” international law.
Consistently opposed throughout his presidency since the turn of the twentieth century, President Putin has spoken about his disapproval both of the plant and its legalization in other countries. Indeed, there have even been reports that the Russian government threatened to remove access to Wikipedia if the company did not delete certain pages regarding the methods of producing types of hash. In a country where freedom and liberty cannot be taken for granted, Russian censorship of cannabis information online only serves to illustrate their firm stance on the issue.
Russian intolerance of cannabis and cannabinoids extends to the sporting world, where sportsmen are prohibited from using cannabinoids, according to an order issued by the Russian Ministry of Sports in 2018. Unfortunately, the Russian government’s negative stance and opposition to the plant are also reflected in the general population’s acceptance of cannabis users. Various polls, of which the veracity can hardly be certain, it should be stated, suggest that upwards of 90% of the population are against the legalization of marijuana.
Not as popular or as commonly used in other European countries, it is estimated that just under 4% of the Russian population uses cannabis. Given the harsh penalty for weed in Russia, it’s hardly surprising that such a small minority of the country partakes in cannabis consumption. Given all that, Russia’s weed laws, particularly for recreational users, are unlikely to change anytime in the near or distant future. While the legalization of medical use has been discussed, as evidenced in the still to be made into law bill of 2019, Russian progress on medical cannabis law remains slow. Indeed, the Russians have even adopted a counter-drugs strategy that is to run until at least 2030. The strategy suggests that the use of cannabis for recreational purposes should be viewed as a significant threat to the Russian healthcare system.
7. GOOD TO KNOW
Given the current conflict in the region, it´s fair to say that Russian weed laws are not high on the agenda of the government. With few outside visitors expected in the coming months, the subject of cannabis in Russia is one that will surely take a back burner while the crisis with Ukraine continues to unfold.
However, if you do find yourself inside Russian borders in the coming months, avoiding cannabis is probably your safest bet if you want to avoid the potentially harsh penalty for weed in Russia that may occur as tensions with western nations continue to rise.
© 2022 Benzinga.com. Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.
Cannabis in Russia – Laws, Use, and History
It’s illegal to possess, sell or grow cannabis in Russia. The country has the highest number of people incarcerated for drug offences in Europe (per capita), and most were imprisoned under the notorious Article 228. However, there are hints that the law may change – with the country exploring the option of importing cannabis for medical research.
- Moskva (Moscow)
- CBD Products
- Recreational cannabis
- Medicinal cannabis
Cannabis laws in Russia
Can you possess and use cannabis in Russia?
Russia’s government takes a tough stance on possession or use of cannabis. Both are illegal, in accordance with Article 228 of the country’s Criminal Code, and are punishable with a fine and/or a prison sentence. Since 2012, the penalties can be deferred if the offender is found to have a drug problem.
Possession of up to six grams is regarded as an administrative offence. Anything above seven grams is a criminal offence. However, there are reports of people being arrested for cannabis possession, only to have the authorities exaggerate the amount of cannabis they were caught with.
For ‘large-scale’ possession, the following punishments may be given:
- A fine of up to 40,000 roubles
- The equivalent amount of three months of the offender’s wages/salary
- Compulsory works for up to 480 hours
- Corrective labour for up to two years
- Restriction or deprivation of liberty for up to three years (in most instances, prison)
For ‘especially large-scale’ possession, these penalties are increased to:
- A fine of up to 500,000 roubles
- The equivalent amount of three years of the offender’s wages/salary
- And/or a restriction or deprivation of liberty for three to 10 years
If the individual willingly hands the cannabis over to the authorities, and ‘actively contributes’ to the uncovering and suppression of drugs-related activities, he may avoid being given any penalties.
In real terms, possessing or using cannabis in Russia is a risky practice. For offenders, the acquittal rate is 0.1%, with most being sentenced to three years in prison. Close to half of the 102,217 guilty verdicts in 2017 were for those convicted of cannabis or other soft drugs-related offences.
Despite this, there are still large numbers of drug users in the country. It’s estimated that they number between 7.3 and 8.5 million in total.
Can you sell cannabis in Russia?
Likewise, it’s illegal to sell cannabis in Russia and the sale of the substance is regarded as a serious offence. If caught selling cannabis or any other drugs, the offender will be deprived of liberty for four to eight years with restriction of liberty for up to one year.
However, what is considered ‘large-scale’ selling or carried out as part of a bigger group of people increases the prison term to five to 12 years and is possibly accompanied by fine too, of up to 500,000 roubles (or three years’ salary).
If it’s on an especially large scale, or the offender is operating as part of an organised gang, or he is selling the cannabis through his official position at work, then the sentence is further elevated to a prison term of eight to 20 years. Additionally, the right to work in certain roles or engage in specific activities may be removed, and there’s also the risk of having to pay one million roubles as a fine (or five years’ salary).
In spite of these tough penalties, drug trafficking remains an issue in Russia. In 2016, Viktor Ivanov (the former head of the country’s drug enforcement agency), estimated that the narcotics industry was generating an annual profit of 1.5 trillion roubles.
Unemployment sometimes drives Russians to sell drugs to make a living. One online dealer commented to the Moscow Times: “You’re looking for legitimate ways to make ends meet. And then you think: Screw this, I’m going to do the only thing I’m good at, which is selling drugs.”
He also pointed to the city of Windhoek, the coastal towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, and the northern town of Oshakati as key areas where drug dealing is most rampant.
Can you grow cannabis in Russia?
It’s illegal to grow cannabis in Russia. The sentences are the same for cultivation as they are for sale, with hefty prison sentences in place for those who are caught growing even small numbers of plants.
In June 2019, the government showed signs of relaxing this law to an extent. They passed a bill, permitting the cultivation of cannabis for pharmaceutical purposes. The bill still needs to be approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin in order to become law.
If passed, it would permit state companies to grow cannabis, providing they have a special licence to do so.
Is CBD legal in Russia?
All cannabis products are illegal in Russia, regardless of how much THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’) they contain. As such, individuals may not possess, sell or buy any CBD products in the country.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Russia?
Cannabis seeds are also illegal, and may not be sent into the country via the mail.
Medicinal cannabis in Russia
At present, Russia has no medicinal cannabis programme. Neither has the government expressed any intention to introduce one in the future. However, the country’s health ministry has stated that it wants to import cannabis for medical research purposes.
A draft regulation document states that both hashish and cannabis are required to study drug addiction, and to isolate active ingredients. It also proposes to import 1.1 kilograms of cannabis, 300 grams of hashish, and 50 grams of hash oil to fulfil these requirements.
This isn’t the first time that Russia has relaxed its laws regarding medicinal cannabis. For example, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, foreign football fans were permitted to bring medicinal cannabis with them, as long as they had a prescription.
Industrial hemp in Russia
Hemp was once an important crop for Russia. In fact, by the end of the 18 th century, hemp fibre provided one of the main sources of income for many parts of the country. This continued until the 19 th century when Russia was responsible for producing around 40% of Europe’s hemp.
This changed during the early 1900s. The hemp trade began to decline, not only due to negative perceptions of the plant, but also because of shrinking acreage and low yields. The socialist reconstruction of agriculture changed the face of hemp cultivation in the country.
Hemp was never made illegal though, and is still grown in Russia. The Konoplex Group is a good example of an organisation profiting from hemp in the country.
Politics and cannabis
President Vladimir Putin has always adopted an anti-cannabis stance. For example, he was openly critical of Canada’s decision to legalise the drug, with his government claiming that the country had “deliberately decided to breach” international law.
He’s also expressed a desire to censor other aspects of Russian life, in a bid to curb cannabis use. In 2018, he put forward a suggestion to control rap music, as some tracks referenced drug use. Likewise, his government threatened to block Wikipedia if a page detailing how to make a specific type of hash wasn’t taken down.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Russia (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:
What to know about Brittney Griner’s case and Russia’s drug laws
US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner holds photographs standing inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 26, 2022 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP]
A week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Brittney Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where cannabis oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage.
Griner, an American basketball star and Olympic medallist who played part-time in a Russian team, admitted the cartridges were hers and that she had packed in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law.
She was charged with drug trafficking, an offence that could see her imprisoned for up to 10 years. She is attending a fifth hearing of her trial on Tuesday.
The case comes as hostility seethes between Russia and the United States, with anger growing towards Moscow for its war.
But the story of an American trapped abroad has brought the drug laws of both nations into the spotlight.
Although Russia had drug control laws since tsarist times, enforcement was practically non-existent until 1924, when the communist Bolshevik government considered narcotic addiction a symptom of a decadent capitalist society and began cracking down.
Pilfered hospital supplies were the main source of drugs until the 1980s, when a new pathway for heroin and hashish was opened by the Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan.
By the late 1990s, heroin was considered a serious problem, and vigilante gangs targeted Roma communities which were blamed as the source of the scourge.
Now, the most popular drugs are synthetic stimulants such as mephedrone, which are sold over the dark web and Telegram.
“There was a well-known case where a narcotics detective accused his colleagues of creating their own drug store over the dark net, hiring couriers and other workers, then busting them all and pretending they’d broken up an organised ring – a crime they’d instigated themselves,” human rights lawyer Arseny Levinson told Al Jazeera.
“He was later imprisoned for revealing state secrets. It’s hard to know the full scale, but anecdotal evidence suggests these ‘red’ [police-operated] shops are quite common. It’s well known that police are involved in narcotrafficking. There’s never been a war between the police and drug dealers in Russia because they’re in a complete symbiosis.”
There are no claims Griner was set up, but among her cellmates, it could be a possibility.
Although personal possession is theoretically decriminalised, officers most commonly find just enough narcotics to launch a criminal case.
“These are not isolated, rare cases but [part of] a systemic phenomenon that happens more-or-less constantly,” explained Levinson.
“There are two main causes. The first and most common is corruption, to accuse someone, then demand a bribe. Drugs are typically planted on those known to indulge in them, on the principle that ‘a thief must sit in prison’. Less commonly, evidence is planted for political reasons, as an instrument for dealing with troublesome characters.”
In 2019, journalist Ivan Golunov was writing a story about the funeral industry for the independent news site Meduza when he was detained. Mephedrone and cocaine were planted in his backpack. He was released a few days later after a rare public outcry, and last year the officers who framed him were carted away to penal colonies themselves.
“There is a system known as ‘the stick’ by which police work is assessed,” Levinson continued.
“The police have to show they’re doing something to earn their wages and clear no fewer cases than they did the previous year. And it’s easier, of course, to simply make these cases up.”
As well as planting evidence, officers have also been known to pressure detainees to save themselves by luring their friends into a sting.
Article 228 of the Russian criminal code, which refers to drug possession, is now known as “the people’s statute” because there are more people imprisoned under it than any other crime – more than a quarter of all prisoners.
Griner is not the only foreigner stuck in this predicament.
Former American diplomat Mark Vogel, accused of drug smuggling when he was caught at Sheremetyevo with 17 grams of medical cannabis prescribed to him by a doctor after he underwent spinal surgery, is also languishing in a Russian prison.
And so is Daniel Diaz-Strukov; the Russian-Peruvian is serving seven years after he was found with trace amounts of the banned psychedelic DMT – which were in medicine he imported accidentally.
In 2019, 25-year-old Israeli backpacker Naama Issahar was stopped in Sheremetyevo with nearly 10 grams of hashish while on a layover from India. She was convicted of narco-trafficking but was freed several months later, after then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally intervened on her behalf.
Foreigners tend to receive stricter sentences
The White House claims Griner has been wrongly detained, but Russia denies her case is politically motivated.
“Foreigners tend to receive stricter sentences because it’s harder to impose a non-custodial sentence,” said Levinson.
“At her level, 0.7 grams of hashish oil is considered a significant quantity and the majority of cases end in a prison term. If she receives a sentence longer than three years, it’s likely politically motivated, but otherwise, it’s just an illustration of the sort of people serving jail time for drug smuggling in Russia.”
At a recent court hearing, Griner’s lawyers presented a doctor’s note that she had been prescribed medical cannabis, but Russia does not recognise the healing power of the drug.
In fact, even discussing it could land you in trouble.
Russian law forbids “narco-propaganda” – the promotion or encouragement of drug use.
In October, famous YouTuber Yuri Dud was fined for his interview with Ukrainian blogger EeOneGuy, in which EeOneGuy discussed taking drugs.
Fines have even been handed out for wearing hats decorated with a cannabis leaf.
Those working with addicts say this law prevents important safety advice from being shared.
“The law on narco-propaganda has greatly complicated preventive work with people who use drugs,” said Aleksey Lakhov, an overdose prevention specialist.
“There is the completely terrible example with [another NGO] which was fined 800,000 roubles [$13,700] for an article on harm reduction in the use of certain types of drugs. Therefore, many organisations think twice before developing harm reduction materials. And with the introduction of criminal liability for the promotion of drugs on the internet, the situation will worsen even more.”
Despite Russia’s tough anti-drugs stance, the country suffers one of the world’s worst HIV outbreaks spread by injecting drugs, with an estimated 0.7 percent of the population living with the virus, while fatal overdoses have doubled since 2019.
But Russia is not the only nation with strict, and sometimes problematic, drug laws.
Although marijuana is legalised in 19 American states, there are others such as Mississippi and Louisiana where prisoners are still serving life sentences over small amounts of cannabis.
“This is not just a unique international and political incident, it’s a moment when we need collective reflection on our own disastrous drug policies in the United States,” said Grey Gardner, senior staff lawyer at the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Whether Ms Griner would have been detained in the US under similar circumstances depends on many factors, including where the stop and arrest occurred. But it certainly does happen throughout the country that people are locked up for possession alone, and in horribly inequitable ways.
“Even as we’ve expanded access to regulated marijuana in many states, it hasn’t ended the invasive surveillance, the violent militarised police tactics, and the arrest, prosecution and stigmatisation of over 1.2 million people for possession of drugs.”
In 2020, Griner wore a jersey on the basketball court bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky ambulance worker killed in a drug raid that ultimately found no drugs.