3 Drug policy of the Soviet Union

Drug policy of the Soviet Union

The drug policy of the Soviet Union changed little throughout the existence of the state, other than slowly becoming stricter, although some differences in penalties existed in the different Union Republics. Policies were focused on prohibition and criminalisation, rather than more liberal policies such as harm reduction and the rehabilitation of users and addicts.



Legislation against drugs first appeared in post-revolutionary Russia, in Article 104-d of the 1922 Penal Code of the RSFSR[1], criminalising drug production, trafficking, and possession with intent to traffic. The 1924 Soviet Constitution expanded this legislation to cover the whole Soviet Union[2]. The 1926 Penal Code of the RSFSR suggested imprisonment or corrective labour for between one and three years as punishment for these offences, depending on the scale of the offence committed. It is noteworthy that drug possession without intention to traffic and the personal use of drugs warranted no penalties at this time.

Drug regulation remained largely untouched in the Soviet Union until 1974, when the Supreme Soviet issued a Decree entitled 'On Reinforcement of the Fight Against Drug Addiction'. This Decree was reproduced in Article 224 of the Penal Codes of all the Republics of the USSR, and not only increased the penalties for the offences mentioned above to between ten to fifteen years' imprisonment, but for the first time criminalised possession of drugs without intent to traffic, bringing a penalty of up to three years in prison. Additional offences of 'seducing another person to narcotic drugs', punishable by up to five years' imprisonment, and the theft of narcotics, punishable by between five to fifteen years' imprisonment, were also created. The term 'narcotics' used here referred to all drugs listed by UN Conventions, not just opiates.

A further Decree issued in 1987 made a conviction for the above offences within a year of an earlier conviction for the same violation of the law liable to punishment of up to two years' imprisonment or corrective labor. Sergei Lebedev, the Chairman of the Association of Independent Advocates in Leningrad at the time, argued that the steady escalation of criminal penalties for drug use was "indicative of the Soviet authorities’ resignation to their complete inability to solve drug problems in a constructive and humane way"[3].




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