Russia Dangles Leniency for Drug Crimes to Lift Business Climate

Russia, notorious for its zero-tolerance approach to drug use, may have found a reason to liberalize its criminal code: foreign investors.

Russia is getting an unfair rap for statistics distorted by drug use, with 74 percent of serious crime in the country linked to narcotics, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said Wednesday at a government meeting near Moscow. Using a lighter touch with addicts would burnish Russia’s appeal, he said.

“This is hurting our country’s image and its investment climate,” he said of Russia’s high rate of grave crimes.

Besieged by low oil prices and U.S. and European sanctions over Ukraine, Russia’s economy is hamstrung by shrinking investment after enduring record capital outflow last year. Foreign investment dropped by two-thirds in 2014, according to the central bank, as the country battled its worst currency crisis since 1998.

Russia, where methadone clinics are illegal, has traditionally relied on cold turkey to cure addicts. The head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, said at the same event that 85 percent of people in prison for drug-related crimes were arrested for carrying narcotics for personal use.

A focus on rehabilitation over punishment would ease pressure on the country’s overcrowded prison system, according to Ivanov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, who’s on the list of people hit with travel bans and asset freezes by the U.S. over Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

“It’s important to see the difference between a Russian Pablo Escobar and an addict caught with 2 grams of heroin,” Ivanov said, referring to a Colombian drug boss killed in 1993.

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