Russian hemp – an annual that was never nipped by frost?

Date: 07.04.2017

''Old Russian records talk about importance of hemp, not only in everyday life but also as an important medicine for pain relief.''


Miha Javornik, Ph.D, Professor
Researcher of Russian Culture, Faculty of Arts Ljubljana

The name of the village Konoplyovka (village near big Russian cities Penza and Tula), hemp leaves bound with wheat ears on the fountain, that the Soviets built in 1957 in one of the central Moscow exhibitions VDNH, are only two examples of the important role hemp played in the Tsarist and in the Soviet empire. In 1715 the enlightened sovereign Peter the Great gave the order to spread hemp and flax crops and something similar happened again in 1934 in the Soviet Union with a party decree about special benefits for those who grow hemp.
At the end of 19th century Russia was growing 40% of hemp materials in whole Europe and Soviet encyclopedia states that in 1936 the Soviet union grew 4/5 of whole world hemp production. Testimonials about hemp growing on Russia's soil go back to 2000 b.c. to the basin of river Don and Dnepr. Old Russian records talk about importance of hemp, not only in everyday life but also as an important medicine for pain relief. This lasted until the Fin de siècle, at the turn from 19th to 20th century, when in that decadent period the use of marijuana as a recreational drug became more widespread. This is when the realization that content of psychotropic substances depended on where Cannabis sativa ruderalis (typical for central parts of Russia) is grown – it has less psychotropic substances when grown in cold areas. That is where the distinction between so called industrial and indian cannabis came from and later got established in Soviet era.
Up until 1917 Russia was very well supplied with anasha (slang term for marijuana) from tge south-east parts of the empire, but that changed after the October revolution when hemp production was drastically reduced. The before mentioned soviet decree from thirties brought hemp back. In 1961 the Soviet union joined the countries that signed the Unified declaration of use of psychotropic substances, intended to curb the " heatwave of recreational use" in the fifties, with which it committed to put cannabis on list of dangerous drugs. That was the reason for the prosecution of anybody growing larger areas of hemp. This was punishable with up to 2 years in prison and is practiced up until today.
In the middle of the eighties, in time of Gorbachov’s perestroika and glasnost, that represents the process of transformation and democracy, the extremely strict system of control began to subside and consequently the cannabis trade increased. Smoking of Anasha, together with alcohol, offered an illusion of escape from the increasingly chaotic reality, that the Soviet society was facing. When the Soviet union fell apart in 1991 and Russia declared independence, under the rule of the first Russian president Jelcin the transition began and created a new class of rich people – the so called novorusski, that at first is a derogatory name for upstarts, that do not chose means to achieve goals. The use of different drugs of course increased. The ailing system of totalitarian control - together with the lack of appropriate regulation – also means uncontrolled production of psychotropic substances and current data shows about tenfold increase since 1990. In nineties there was a rise in companies that today advocate the health benefits of hemp online. So it is now possible to monitor daily news about hemp from the west even on Russian web sites. These are the forerunners of hemp re-legalization ... Even in Russia.


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