“No Liberalisation”: How Drug Policy was Discussed in the Russian Parliament

Drug policy discussed in the Russian parliament

Vyacheslav Volodin (right) called for a "sustainable hostility" against drugs and the "subculture" around them (Image source: Wikimedia)

On the 4th of December, the “Parliamentarians Against Drugs” conference saw deputies from 43 countries gather to discuss drug policy in Russia’s Parliament, known as the State Duma. The event, held with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), saw the majority of delegates come from Central and East Asia, including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. Despite support from the UNODC, participants rallied against drug policies adopted by some European and NATO countries, such as light-drug decriminalization. Instead, they decided to work on a unified legislation to reject “Western” approaches and push against the “liberalisation” of drug policy. Open Russia reports what the speakers discussed.

This piece was originally published in Russian by Open Russia.

Vyacheslav Volodin: tougher penalties for drug use are needed

The chairman of the conference was Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma. As the first speaker, he suggested introducing stronger penalties for drug use. One measure, for instance, included toughening the penalty for advertising and propaganda of forbidden substances:

“…we need to press for imposing more responsibility for propaganda and advertising of drugs and psychoactive substances. To form a sustainable hostility in the society against not only the drug itself but also the subculture built around it”.

Volodin also mentioned drug distribution done through anonymous, online instant-messaging platforms. Here, he advised the Duma to expand legislation that combats “propaganda” of drug use on social media, and to react “flexibly” to the issue, recommending pre-court bans:

“Drug dealers [have now moved] to anonymous messengers and modern payment systems. And we need to be quick and flexible in decision making. In the Russian Federation, there are already legislative acts on counteraction against the propaganda of drug use in media and social networks. In accordance with them, the pre-court bans of these resources are possible”.

He also spoke against countries that legalise “light drugs”, accusing them of creating difficulties amongst their neighbours. Rather, Volodin suggests opposing this trend by creating a unified legal model:

“We need to base [ourselves] on the principle of united and equal responsibility of all countries. We need to conduct analysis to avoid situations in the future when one country can create difficulties and problems in the neighbouring states by changing its legislation. It primarily concerns the liberalisation and legalisation of so called ‘light drugs’”.

Finally, the Speaker drew his attention to the United States and NATO, criticising their fight against drugs in Afghanistan as ineffective:

“Our colleagues in the US Congress can give advice and recipes on how something should be done but we also would like them to explain what they are doing in this direction [regarding the closing of drug laboratories in Afghanistan]. But we don’t see anyone from the US Congress or Senate in this hall. They either have nothing to say, or are ashamed of what is going on”.

Sergey Lavrov: drug liberalisation is a catastrophe

Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, also spoke at the conference. His speech compared drugs to terrorism, and called on participants to tackle drug-related problems “creatively”:

“The variety of new psychoactive substances and their massive access to the market dictates the urgency of developing a creative and joint approach to find an effective cure as soon as possible. The combination of drug trafficking with terrorism strengthens [terrorism’s] deadly potential with the money from drug-dealing, [which has now] become a reality. Consequently, drug money undermines the international security and stability”.

Lavrov also claimed that the people supporting the liberalisation of drug policy suggest surrendering to “international drug criminality”:

“Facing these issues, we can’t agree with those who suggest surrendering under pressure from international drug criminality, showing the white flag and opening the gates to total drug liberalisation. This approach could lead to a catastrophe never seen before. We acknowledge the efforts of the police who often put their lives at risk fighting drug criminals. We need to go on strengthening their cooperation, exchange of operational information and improving their technical equipment”.

Gennady Zyuganov: “rusophobia” and economy are the main drugs

The 73-year-old head of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, also expressed his opinion on drug policy. He explained the three types of drugs Russia suffers from: the free-market, “rusophobia” and medical drugs:

“I believe that our country suffers from three types of drugs. First of all, it’s an economic drug. For 10 years we have been told that the free market will regulate itself. As a result, the free market destroyed 80 thousand enterprises, led to mass unemployment and poverty, which we haven’t had just some time ago. The second drug is “rusophobia” and “anti-sovietism”, this so-called soft power which today has turned to hard power, to sanctions and which now threatens us also with military dangers. And the third drug is poisons of physiologic-medical nature. I would like us to concern all those three dangers together”.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: the blame for drugs lies on Europe and colour revolutions

Vladimir Zhirionvsky, head of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, had another theory on the drug problems facing the world: Europe and revolutions:

“Let’s stop all the revolutions and wars! They are exactly where drugs that poor people consume come from. <…> As soon as a war or revolution breaks out in a region, drug use rises dramatically. Who has organized these colour revolutions all over the world? Europe! And we all know what it resulted in”.

“United Russia”: we will never legalise drugs

The party that makes up the majority of the State Duma, United Russia, was represented by their leader, Sergey Neverov, and the head of the Committee for Safety and Countering Corruption, Vasily Piskarev. Both speakers made clear that there will be no “liberalisation” of drug policy in the near future. Instead, Neverov said that a liberal approach to the issue of non-medical distribution of drugs “will inevitably lead the country to death”:

“In Russia, we all press consistently for the impossibility of the non-medical drug use legalisation of any kind. Despite different political views, we all unite against this issue”.

Piskarev compared forbidden substances to terrorism and extremism and called suggestions on the liberalisation of anti-drug legislation a threat to all citizens’ lives and health:

“Drug criminality, terrorism and extremism are combining, and on top of that we hear more and more calls for drug legalisation or liberalisation of anti-drug legislation, which is a direct threat to lives and health of our citizens, the safety of our society and state. That’s why parliamentarians should make a joint effort and fight the drug threat and drug aggression together”.

Nikita Lushnikov: we will create an international platform for fighting drugs

Russian NGOs were represented by only one speaker: Nikita Lushnikov. As head of the controversial National Anti-drug Union, Lushnikov’s speech suggested creating an international platform called “World Without Drugs”. He advised that the whole world should prepare for a “wave of drugs” to combat it in the coming years:

“The world community must be prepared for a wave of various drugs in order to not to moan about huge consequences of drug epidemic in future. We see the worsening drug situation in East Asia and in the Middle East. Today ‘synthetic’ dominates”.

Lushnikov also touched on the goal of an NGO: to “counteract against the proliferation of drug addiction and drug criminality in Russia”. The National Anti-drug Union holds controversial views on drug use, including, for instance, the claim that on the first use of any drug, it causes addiction and kills people:

“A drug addict can be violent, fall into rage when they don’t get a dose. Drugs lead to psychosis development. Such person is dangerous not only for themselves but also for people around them”.

Even cannabis, they claim, “can harm the DNA”. They claim that it “leads to cancer and psychological diseases” and overall is “five times more dangerous than LSD”.

Their website offers advice on how to recognise a drug user amongst your child’s friends, and what steps to take so that your child “won’t become a drug addict”. Among those suggested, a parent must:

“Show that you are disappointed in them. They destroyed all your hope and expectations. As a rule, after such words children want to show the opposite. It doesn’t, of course, help from the addiction but the child will try to be better, which can affect their decision to go for rehabilitation.

Tell them that you will opt for these measures if they won’t stop taking drugs: kick them out of the flat, don’t leave anything for them to inherit, and stop giving them money. No one wants to live in the street! It should be an incentive to make up their mind”.

Also the NAU advises “to accompany your child wherever they are going” and control them along with “constant brainwashing”.

This piece was originally published in Russian by Open Russia.