On February 10 the deputies of the Russian parliament adopted, in the third and final reading, a bill to increase the sentence for “inciting use of drugs” on the Internet to 15 years. Earlier, the deputies adopted a bill on administrative fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($20,000) for “drug propaganda” on the Internet. The moves follow an order made by President Vladimir Putin, who instructed lawmakers to take additional measures to counter drug trafficking in 2019.
The press centre of the parliament called these amendments “increased criminal liability for drug propaganda.” However, the adoption of these laws is a consequence of a more general problem. The authorities in Russia are showing that they consider the Internet not a tool for progress, but “an evil that must be somehow contained and must be fought against.” In this regard, the entire information policy in Russia in recent years is aimed at controlling the Internet and suppressing freedom of expression on the Internet. This process, it seems, will continue to evolve towards even greater repression and control over the Internet.
As for the directly adopted laws and drug policy in Russia, this once again confirms the course chosen by the authorities to tighten drug policy and strengthen criminal repression. At the same time, repressive policies, police regulation measures, and the use of force to resolve this problem are absolutely ineffective.
As a result of the intensification of repression, it is mainly people who use drugs that are in prison. For such crimes, 30% of convicts are serving sentences in male-only penal colonies and 40% in female-only penal colonies. In 2019, about 80 thousand people were convicted in Russia for crimes related to drug trafficking. Most of the sentences (73%) were for the purchase or possession of drugs, another 22% for the production and sale.
The share of such convicts has continued to grow over the past decade. Moreover, the average sentence for drug-related crimes is also increasing. This creates a huge burden on the country’s budget, leads to overcrowding of places of detention, and deterioration of conditions in them. In addition, this leads to the withdrawal of a large number of able-bodied people from the country’s economy. Finally, and most importantly, people serving sentences for drug trafficking in prisons are most likely to not only not be “reformed and aware of their guilt,” but, on the contrary, are even more stigmatised and more likely to commit a crime later. This raises the question of the need to reform the system of criminal prosecution for crimes related to drug trafficking.
However, the new bill continues the general trend that has existed for a long time. The bill is full of vague language, and this is the reason for the possible broad interpretation of the law and arbitrary enforcement. It is not entirely clear what “inducement to use” over the Internet actually is. This means that it is likely to become a breeding ground for increased drug repression.
It should also be expected that the discussion of drug policy in Russia will go underground or disappear entirely. Public discussion of the fact that punishments for drug-related crimes in modern Russia are too harsh, and drug policy itself is overly repressive, will become impossible.