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Russia's Reefer Cops Rave Against The Machine

Author: Jonty Skrufff (
Sunday, September 5, 2004
Officers from Russia's Federal Drug Control Service charged a shopkeeper with disseminating 'drug propaganda' this week after they found him selling mobile phone covers decorated with cannabis leaves.

Arresting officer Nikolai Sumburov told the Moscow Times they view the phone casings as 'gateway drugs' in their own right.

"Sixteen- and 17-year-old teenagers buy the cell phone so they can consider themselves to be part of the so-called subculture," he explained.

"Then they start thinking about trying the drug."

The surprise move came just three months after President Putin decriminalised personal use of all drugs (including heroin and cocaine) making possession of up to 10 'average single doses' punishable with a fine rather than prison. Previously users risked long prison sentences if caught with even a single spliff with many unconvicted suspects being jailed for up to 4 years before facing trial.

"The real impetus for the (decriminalisation) change probably lies in the country's festering, overcrowded, and disease-filled prison system," reported in May.

"With some 850,000 prisoners, Russia is second only to the United States in the number and percentage of its people it imprisons and an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 of them are incarcerated on drug charges," the civil liberties group pointed out.

The shopkeeper targeted by the Federal Drug Control Service faces a fine rather than jail, the Moscow Times reported, through local drug reform agencies are reportedly alarmed by what they see as an escalating turf war between rival police agencies. ('Although conditions in the labor camps are harsh, those in pre-trial detention centers are even worse. . .. by the end of 1994 some 233,500 persons; more than 20 percent of the entire prison population; were incarcerated in pretrial detention centers, sometimes for a period longer than the nominal punishment for the crime of which they were accused . . .')

(Russian Prison tattoos: 'From the mid-1960's to the 1980's, thirty-five million people were incarcerated, and of those, twenty to thirty million were tattooed. More than simple decoration, the images symbolically proclaim the wearer's background and rank within the complex social system of the jailed . . .')

Jonty Skrufff (