Vice Squad
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Russia's new drug law reports (in Russian) that the Russian government has just published the definitions of the “average single doses” of drugs. These are not intended to prevent overdose by inexperienced users. Instead, these definitions are supposed to play a critical role in determining the criminality of drug consumption and possession. You may recall (see here and here) that Russia's anti-drug law does not rely on zero tolerance, at least with respect to consumption. According to the new law that became effective today, the sale of illegal drugs constitutes a crime regardless of the amounts involved. However, the possession and consumption of drugs are deemed to be criminal only if the amount exceeds ten “average doses.” (The person apparently can still spend time in jail even if he had fewer than ten doses, but in this case the punishment is limited to 15 days of “administrative arrest” or a fine. The criminal punishment for larger amounts can be up to ten years (!) in prison.) Initially, the government asked the Ministry of Health, State Committee on Drug Control (SCDC), and the police to develop the definitions of average doses. Not too surprisingly, these watchdogs of public health and morality came up with such small “average doses” that a realistic single dose of a drug would have been enough to put a person away for a few years. Interestingly, according to the aforementioned’s report, SCDC had complained that realistic definitions of average doses would require it to drop up to one third of all criminal cases.

BTW, for those of you who would like to learn what, as of today, is viewed as conventional average doses in Russia, here are some numbers: heroin – 0.1 grams; hashish – 0.5 grams; marijuana – 2 grams; cocaine – 0.15 grams. (The full Russian-language list can be found here.) The law is retroactive. So, quite a few people who are already doing time for possession of a few grams of pot, etc. can now petition the courts to overturn their convictions. While I am not a great believer in the reasonableness of the Russian courts, my guess is that these cases will be sufficiently straightforward to make sure that a large number of people could be freed relatively soon.

Interestingly, SCDC has complained that “even in America” there is no such legal concept as an “average dose.” I am glad that Russia is not copying the US drug laws. In fact, it appears that it might be time for us to start borrowing some aspects of criminal law from Russia. And while we are at it, maybe we can take a good look at their flat 13% personal income tax rate as well.

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