The situation changed during the 1970s, as the echo of the hippie movement came to the USSR, and the immigration of Asians into Russia increased. Pot became popular among Russian “bohemia”, providing the chance to stand out against a grey background of gloomy compatriots.
Marijuana remained a “bohemian drug” for a long time, but in the last decade it has seen skyrocketing popularity. In 1992 most young people knew what “grass” was, and everybody was acquainted with a couple of tokers. By 1995 almost all of the participants of my extempore polls had inhaled marijuana at least once. Today it’s very difficult to find a young Russian who has never smoked ganja.
Nowadays alcohol is still the most popular drug among Russians, but more and more young people are discarding alcohol in favor of marijuana. Of course, many Russian youths combine ganja smoking with excessive use of alcohol and even with sniffing glue or using barbiturates. But I will discount them, they are fashion victims. They smoke ganja only because “it’s cool to do it.” I’ll focus on clever pot-smokers.
As a rule, they are successful young people, who can afford a more or less satisfactory life. These people haven’t the time for evening unconsciousness and morning hangover. Marijuana is a means for relaxation and intellectual stimulation for them.
Although pot smokers all over the world have many of the same smoking rituals, there are some specific features of pot smoking in Russia worthy of mention.
To begin with, Russians very rarely roll joints. They have excellent papiroses ? short, thick cigarettes without a filter. There are many different brands of papiroses in Russia, but “Belomorcanal”, or simply Belomor is the most popular. There’s even a site called “Greenbelomor” on the Russian Internet. But you’d better not try to buy Belomor if you have some pot with you, you may attract the police. Belomor is a very cheap brand, and it’s usually preferred by low-paid industrial workers, not the well-dressed young people.
Papirose are usually filled with the pure pot or mixed with tobacco. The papirose filled with weed is usually called kosyak, a word which means “jamb” or “shoal”.
Friends usually smoke a kosyak using a technique called paravoz, meaning “steam-engine.” Paravoz is quite a ritualized method of pot smoking. There are two participants ? one takes the burning edge of the kosyak inside his mouth and breathes out, he is “giving out paravoz.” Another is drawing a deep breath from the open side of the kosyak, and is “receiving paravoz.”
Paravoz is a collective ritual popular in big gatherings. In spite of its outward eroticism, paravoz is used irrespective of sexual orientation. As a rule, the person who can give paravoz better than others gives it to all his friends.
Sometimes marijuana is smoked through a burbulyator (an untranslatable word, imitating the gurgle of boiling water). A burbulyator is made of a plastic bottle. The upper part with bottleneck is cut off and put into the bottle. So this part can move up and down. The bottle is filled with water, and the upper part is moved down. The bottle’s neck is covered by turned over bottle cap, which is lined by aluminum foil, pierced, and filled by the grass. Smoker lights up the grass and slowly raises the upper part of the bottle. After that smoke appears into the bottle under the water. Then toker takes off the cap, moves down the upper part of the bottle and inhales the chilled smoke going out from the bottle.
In Russia, particularly in its south regions, there is a very popular pot dish known as milk. It’s made of grass boiled with milk fat and butter. The milk is a greenish drink with an astringent taste. If made properly, it has strong psychoactive effects with intense visuals. However, it requires too much grass to prepare the milk, so good pot is traditionally smoked. A proverb says that weak grass “can be used only for milk.”
Russian pot smokers have a voluminous glossary of pot words and expressions.
The most widespread names for cannabis are: anasha, plan, konoplya (hemp), shala, ganjubas, cannabis, hash, soloma (straw), dudki (pipes), drap, hashish, plastilin (plasticine), matsanka, pyl’ (dust), shishki (cones), boshki (heads), dur’ (folly).
An empty papirose is called shtaket. When it’s full of grass it’s called kosyak . To stuff a papirose is zabit’ (to choke up) or prikolotit’ (to nail) a kosyak. To blow up a kosyak means to smoke it. When the pot is strong it’s usually smoked not by whole kosyak, but by pyatka (heel), choking up only one third or quarter of the whole kosyak.
The beginners usually buy small amounts of grass. In such cases the grass is often measured by match box which is called korabl’ (ship). Mature smokers prefer not to squander their funds and purchase grass by glasses. A ship and a glass are distinctive units of measure ? one glass is assumed to be equal to ten ships. Usually people carry pot in a small paper package from which it’s hard to pour out. Such a paper package is named pakavan.
There are many words for the effects of marijuana, too. Its primary effects are designated by words vstavlyaet (puts in) or vpiraet. When the grass is weak (bespontovaya) it doesn’t put in, and you have to catch up yourself (dogonyatsa). If the grass is strong it puts in after a couple of draws. Russian mne vperlo, mne vstavilo or menya pryot is equivalent to English “I’m high”.
For the intensification of emotional effect of your words you would add some epithet like “ne po-detski” (“not childishly,” meaning very strong) and say: “menya pryot ne po-detski”.
“Pot paranoia”, known to every pot smoker, in Russian is called izmena (treason). To “set down on a treason” (sest’ na izmenu) means to be deeply frightened with something or somebody both apropos of something and apropos of nothing. Russian pot smokers often set down on a treason at the sight of ment (cop) because many Russian ganja people smoke outdoors and have some grass in their pockets as well.
In spite of stories about their brutality, Russian cops are not so dangerous as their colleagues in parts of the US. Yes, they are rude and used to solving all problems by brute force. But they have scanty earnings and most of them would prefer to take a bribe and let a toker go (even with his pot!) than bust him without any profit.
How much do you have to give to a Russian cop? It depends on the contents of your wallet. It could be 200 rubles (about $8) or 5000 rubles ($200). The process of deliverance from cop is called otmazka. It’s always better to bribe the cop who arrested you immediately ? the more you get processed the more people who need a bribe.
But if the pot smoker hasn’t enough money, or if the cop who caught him isn’t interested in a bribe (high morals, or his superior is watching him) the future can be bad for the toker. According to Russian laws, buying or possessing “a big amount” of marijuana (over five grams!) without an intention to sell, is punished by three-years imprisonment. If you are convicted of buying or possessing marijuana with an intention to sell it, you can be imprisoned from three to seven years.
Russian law also encourages snitching: “A person, who handed off drugs voluntarily… and has rendered active assistance in disclosing or suppression of crimes… and in exposure of persons who had committed these crimes… is released from the amenability for the present crime.”
Also there is a clause in the Russian Criminal Code, which can be applied to many situations. It’s “an inclination to usage of drugs.” So if you persuade somebody to smoke a bit of ganja you became a criminal ? you can be imprisoned from two to five years. If several people commit this “crime,” they can be imprisoned from three to eight years. The same punishment awaits you if your “victim” wasn’t of the full legal age.
Before the Russian ganja man decides to grow marijuana in his own home or garden, he ought to think whether he should do this. The punishment for such “gardener” is either two-years imprisonment or a very heavy fine.
One more clause in the Russian Criminal Code which is often used to harass pot smokers is “organization or keeping of dens for drug usage.” Interpretation of this clause is very vague ? every apartment where people smoke pot from time to time can be called “a den for drug usage”. For such “crime” the apartment owner can be imprisoned from three to seven years.
It might seem that these periods of imprisonment aren’t very long compared to the US. But unfortunately conditions in Russian jails are quite terrible, and even a slight period spent there can be deeply shocking.
Many of Russian pot smokers call themselves “the Rastas”. But it is hard to find real Rastas in Russia. There is a so-called “Rasta movement” in Russia, but it includes only a small part of the Rasta religion ? pot smoking and related activities. Russians who calls themselves “Rastas” are mostly former hippies who decided that they needed some kind of idea to smoke for. Outward attributes, such as dreadlocks, red-yellow-green garments and self-identifying as participants of a popular movement are most attractive for such people.
There are also pot-people who don’t want to belong to any communities. They say that they are “inside Rastas.” To my mind they are closer to real meaning of the Rastafarian religion than the “outside Rastas.” I asked one “inside Rasta” about what Rasta culture is for him. “For me it’s a culture of marijuana usage, connected with certain music (dub, reggae, ambient, jungle) and certain rituals (hookahs, cushions for sitting on, candles, incense),” he explained. “It’s a certain attitude to marijuana. The grass is not a drug, but a creative stimulus. Rasta culture for me is a sober view of life, without any alcohol in my blood. In my mind marijuana is not just a drug which helps you to get stoned, it’s something more serious.”
Pot music isn’t widespread in Russia, but there are two Russian “pot bands” deserving consideration.
The main inspirer of Russian Rastas and pot smokers is Jah Division, the first Russian reggae band. It was created by Gera Moralez, whose father Leopoldo Moralez was a Cuban revolutionary fighting together with the famous Che Gevara.
“We were composing songs all together and Jah was with us too”, said Gera, “All our best songs were born in that time. Words came to us, and music… it was existing eternally, Jah knows”.
Russian ganja people were pleasantly surprised when First Russian State TV Channel (ORT) recently featured Jah Division in video with their song Cuba, Cuba, cubana Legalize Marijuana. It’s worthwhile to present the lyrics of this song, translated here:
I feel sadness for Cuba
Aged Fidel with silver beard
The ghost of the childhood,
the ghost of the childhood
I would like to become
Celestial President of Cuba
Mama would be happy
And mama is sacred one
Cuba, Cuba, cubana
Cuba is the capital of West-India
Still closed for everyone
Jamaica is near, where people dance reggae
The same climate ? marijuana
This is Rastaman’s land
The ship fled on full sails
To the heavens in a
Cuba, Cuba, cubana
Crazy wind in the sea ripped apart
Dashing flier ? nothing more to say
The bearded Fidel betrayed everyone
He hanged the sun ? but it isn’t going
Oh, Jah Rastafari!
You may choose the one you want
Cuba, Cuba, cubana
The other band that should be mentioned is Caribace. The musical efforts of the band is a unique mixture of reggae pulsating syncopations, solid drum and bass foundations of dub, with the immense heritage of Russian culture, both musical and poetic.
Jah Division’s songs are based mostly on the lyrics, while Caribace are fascinating mostly because of the music. They play pot music with various sound effects and samples, and the vocal is perceived as just another sound sample.
Caribace is quite a young band ? they have released only one album. One can hope that their further creative work will be as good.
In the Russian segment of the Internet there are many sites devoted to marijuana, but the majority of them are don’t attract any interest ? they are amateur home pages where someone describes how he and his friend Vasya occasionally smoked ganja and how they liked it.
But besides those amateur sites there are places with vital connections to the pot-scene in Russia.
www.high.ru is considered the most comprehensive Russian psychedelic resource. The site contains several hundreds articles about various drugs and natural psychoactive substances, of course including marijuana.
High.ru differs from “pro-pot” sites because its mission is less political and more educational. Also, the site regularly features trip-reports contributed by the site visitors, detailing personal experiences with pot, mushrooms, acid and other substances.
Russian Utopia (www.utopia.pl.ru) is devoted to cannabis and its derivatives. The site expresses subjective points of view on cannabis and its influence on human body and mind. There is a large gallery of pot-related images, a library, along with a chat and discussion forums.
www.legalize.spb.ru carries the following slogan ? “If we would be united in one vote, we will be heard.” The site begins with a proclamation comparing pot to vodka.
www.marihuana.da.ru has a lot of pot jokes, amusing pictures and other humour. You can find out some reasons why kosyak is better than a woman.
www.rastaman.tales.ru features pot fairy tales by Dmitry Hajduk. Hajduk’s tales develop from crazy ideas born in stoned company. The stories follow the principle ? “one will begin, another will pick up”. These tales have a relatively weak relation to Rastafarians, but they represent original and interesting histories from the life of Russian pot-people.
Official “medical” websites, as well as other media controlled by the state, present the other point of view. These websites all look like clones, making no distinction between ganja smokers and junkies, both are referred to as “addicts”.
The most widespread thesis of the prohibitionists is that marijuana is a springboard to stronger drugs. “All junkies smoked marijuana before they became heroin addicts. Hence all marijuana smokers will go to heroin hell” ? declare prohibitionists, without any doubts in their logic.
Anti-drug hysteria reigns in Russia, newspapers colorfully write about instant addiction, blurring the lines between marijuana and injectable drugs. Intimidated parents are panicked. Teenagers, having tried ganja, learn that media claims of drug horrors are exaggerated. “If marijuana is drugs, then drugs are interesting and safe” ? thinks the teenager brought up by intimidated parents and ignorant journalists. By mentioning marijuana in one line with heroin, the state itself pushes youth to the use of other, stronger and dangerous substances.
So is legalization in Russia possible in the near future? Sadly, I’d say not. Before it can happen, it will be necessary to educate the Russian people, and increase awareness of the cannabis culture in the media, persistently and patiently.