From shooting to legalizing – the prospects of soft drugs decriminalization in Ukraine

The interview with the Executive Director of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) Aleksandr Pavlichenko about the prospects of soft drugs decriminalization in Ukraine.

The President of Ukraine, Vladymyr Zelenskiy at the recent press-marathon, answering journalists’ question about when and if at all the use of soft drugs will be decriminalized in Ukraine said that this issue was not a priority for him. How could you comment such answer?

AP – Nonetheless, this is a topical issues and shall be considered. It was not mentioned even at the level of the President that it should not be considered. We (UHHRU) think, that serious preparation shall precede reviewing of this issue. The work, which was carried out by the previous Parliament on defining legislative framework for cannabis medical use was the first suggestion, which should have been considered in the framework of resolving huge number of problems voiced at the press-marathon. This issue will be resolved; it is the question of timeframe: months or years. It would be good if this were resolved sooner, as the demand for cannabis medical use is there, and it is serious.

Currently there exists a List of used narcotic drugs, and the dozes of their use, which are criminalized by our legislation. Not that long ago a working group was organized from the representatives of human rights protection organizations, which is dealing with the analysis of this document with the aim of reviewing dozes of some narcotic drugs, with the aim of their decriminalization. And the representatives of UHHRU are the members of this group. What is the current situation with the review of this List?

AP – Here we are talking about the work of the advisory group at the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. It was created at the times of Ulyana Suprin, but at the moment, because the officials in the Ministry has changed completely, we had to relaunch the relations with the Ministry. Luckily, the new Minister is not a new-comer in this issue and she has research papers in this sphere. At the last joint working meeting we did the audit of this List and discussed the opportunities to amend it. To our view, this is the first step on the way to legal regulation of the situation with cannabis medical use, for example.

Executive Director of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) Aleksandr Pavlichenko

What is UHHRU’s human rights protection position in this issue?

AP – We think, the focus of law enforcement agencies in counteracting narcotic drug use in Ukraine shall be shifted from the drug addicts, who need medical help in treating this addiction, to drug dealers, who receive profits from that. In other words, the main emphasis in the counteracting narcotic drug use shall be made not on the doze size in the pockets of drug addicts, but on those, who is dealing with narcotic drugs commercial sale.

There is a view that about one third of convicts in Ukrainian penitentiary establishments are convicted for storage of soft drugs, and if we are successful in decriminalization of soft drugs use, then in the result we will be able to free the penitentiary establishments from the excess of prisoners, and finally to carry out the reform of the penitentiary system. The reform of the penitentiary system, and in particular, the conditions of detention of the prisoners, is one of the EU requirements. How can you comment this information?

AP – Let’s say, we are talking about approximately one third of convicts, who serve the sentence under article 307 and article 309 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for the crimes related, among other things, to consumption of marihuana. Under article 309, the persons, who store narcotic drugs without the aim to sell them are convicted, and under the article 307 – with the aim of sale. To our opinion, those who are convicted under the article 309 do not present social threat in the society. Moreover, their imprisonment does not help in their correction and does not change the situation for better. There are penitentiary establishments where drugs are present, that is why, it is not possible to protect the convicts from using drugs even during imprisonment. Unfortunately, at present, in our country there is a practice, when people using drugs and being drug addicts, people, who in their situation need medical help, are criminally persecuted and can be handed a sentence for their addiction. And this is another important issue related to soft drugs decriminalization.

What are the short-term plans of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in legal regulation of the issues related to drug use?

AP – Actually, drug control is a complex problem involving not only people using soft drugs, but also people using hard-drugs. In the latter case, introduction of medication-assisted treatment is a very important moment. Today we are thinking about starting pilot project in one of the penitentiary establishments on introducing the practice of medication-assisted treatment. At the moment there is no such treatment in the penitentiary establishments.

Speaking about legal regulation of soft drugs use, currently we are working on advocating decriminalization of cannabis for medical purposes, i.e. we are talking about decriminalization at the legislative level of the use of soft drugs under medical control by those who require increase of pain threshold or in case of recommendations for treatment of certain diseases like, for example, epilepsy.

For the second year already Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union cooperates with All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV and provide legal support both to the people with HIV+ status, and for the representatives of the vulnerable groups – drug addicts and sex-workers. You often go on monitoring visits to penitentiary establishment and pay a lot of attention to the conditions of medical services for convicts. What is the current situation with drug addicts in the penitentiary establishments?

AP – The administrations of the penitentiary establishments consider that this category of convicts shall be rather transferred to healthcare facilities, treated from the addiction, involved in social activity, so that they change their attitude, and being already out of prison, stay away from drug use.

The attitude of the state to such people is always very illustrative – this is a characteristic of the development of the society. In dictatorships, which, for example, the Soviet Union was, drug use is always severely punished and currently the same practice is applied at the territories not controlled by Ukraine (ORDLO), where those who used or sold drugs are demonstratively persecuted. According to our data, in 2014, people at these territories were even shot on suspicion of drug distribution. Also at these territories medication-assisted treatment is not recognized. We follow up the case when a person on methadone maintenance treatment was handed a sentence and is currently in prison in ORDLO.

Interview by Sergey Myasoyedov (UHHRU) specially for the portal

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union implements the project “Development of the legal network for protection of the people living with HIV/AIDS, representatives of key PLHIV communities and persons ill with TB” with the financial support of the Charitable organization “All-Ukrainian Network of the People Living with HIV/AIDS” in the framework of implementation of the project “Releasing the Burden of TB and HIV infection through creation of the open access to timely and quality diagnostics and treatment of the TB and its resistant forms, expanding evidence based prevention, diagnostic and treatment of HIV infection, and creation of stable and sustainable health protection systems”, which is implemented with the financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.


If you find an error on our site, please select the incorrect text and press ctrl-enter.

May also be useful

Join Us

Let's make a great work together!
Support Become a volunteer Complete training

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: