From Russian state media outlet Sputnik comes the surprising news that Belarus has banned cannabis cultivation with a Dec. 31 decree from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
The surprise isn’t that growing was banned—but that it hadn’t been banned already.
The former Soviet republic’s best claim to fame is as “Europe’s last dictatorship.” Strongman Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for over 20 years now, resorting to probable fraud and definite repression to hold on to the presidency. After Lukashenko was accused of stealing the 2010 elections, there was a popular protest movement, put down wth mass arrests—with the opposition candidate himself sentenced to prison for inciting riots!
No surprise that Lukashenko was “re-elected” with virtually no opposition in 2015.
In last September’s parliamentary elections, a few opposition candidates were for the first time allowed to take seats, leading some Belarus-watchers to hope for a “thaw.” But Lukashenko is still running a very tight ship, not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to be cannabis-friendly.
And it isn’t.
The We Be High travel blog informs us that “marijuana is highly illegal in Belarus.” In fact, a recent “reform” of the penal code eliminated the distinction between possession and distribution. That means possession of any quantity of herb can land you up to 10 years in prison—unless you can arrange a very substantial bribe to the notoriously corrupt police and judiciary.
Not surprisingly, a color-coded map indicating levels of world cannabis use, prepared by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, shows Belarus near the bottom of the scale. Within Europe, the UK is in the “high” category, with 6.2 percent of its population toking, along with the Netherlands and Czech Republic. Belarus and another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, are the only two European countries in the “low” category. Russia and Ukraine are in the “medium” range.
So what is going on here?
The new decree also covers opium poppies and (oddly) the obscure herb heracleum. The Sputnik account notes that “possession and sale of cannabis is illegal in Belarus.” As with the persistent stories about cannabis being legal in ultra-repressive North Korea, this oversight in the law was probably due to the fact that there simply was no cannabis cultivation to bother outlawing in Belarus.
And with the current tentative “thaw” (mostly aimed at wooing foreign investment), Lukshenko doesn’t want his people getting any ideas.
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