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Russian kids in ‘birthplace of recreational weed’ could face compulsory drug tests

Russian kids in ‘birthplace of recreational weed’ could face compulsory drug tests
The head of Russia’s Republic of Buryatia, Aleksey Tsydenov, wants the local administration to drug test all schoolchildren and students in the region, in a bid to detect drug users and deter others from using illegal substances.

The compulsory drug tests would apply to all schoolchildren, all students of vocational schools and first-year students of universities, according to preliminary plans posted on the official website of Buryatia’s administration on Friday.

Tsydenov also asked the administration to look for ways to make drug testing cheaper and to prepare a plan to eliminate the vast fields of naturally-growing marijuana.

Buryatia is a relatively large region in South Siberia, bordering Mongolia and populated mostly by Buddhist people who are ethnically very close to Mongols.

Marijuana grows in Buryatia naturally and has been used by locals since time immemorial meaning it could be the birthplace of recreational weed. In fact, one of the oldest artifacts testifying to recreational or religious use of cannabis – a pouch with dried hemp buds – has been found in the world-famous Pazyryk burials which are located in the nearby Altai region and date back to 3rd or 4th century BC.

But life in modern Russia differs from the one of ancient Scythian tribes who buried their dead with pouches of cannabis. Current Russian laws forbid any use of cannabis and possession of even small amounts of marijuana can lead to being arrested and fined, while growing or dealing could put you in prison for up to eight years.

Attempts to fight the illegal drug use through universal testing have been made in Russia before, but usually such initiatives become stalled as they contradict basic human rights. Still, the authorities introduce them where possible - getting a firearms license requires a drug test, for example.

In mid-2013, Russia introduced a law involving psychological and medical tests on young people suspected of drug abuse, but this law only allowed for voluntary checks and required parental consent for kids under 15.

The motion almost immediately caused a controversy in the mass media and among the general public – critics pointed at the insufficient protection of the highly-sensitive information and also said that in some regions kids and parents had been coerced into agreeing to the tests.

Others noted that some questions from the written test, like “have you ever inhaled gasoline or acetone for the sake of an unusual experience” could actually encourage young children to carry out these actions.

Still, in May this year the Ombudsman for Children's Rights, Anna Kuznetsova, proposed to amend the bill in a way that would make it impossible for children to dodge the drug tests. Her proposal has not yet become a legislative bill.

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