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Eyes On Russia: Sun, Moon & Tsars

Russia was once the world’s biggest hemp supplier—now it’s booting up crop production again.




RUSSIA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH the cannabis plant is complex and often confusing. The country is famously merciless in its criminalization of THC-rich marijuana.

The case of American Brittany Griner, sentenced last August to nine years in prison for possession of medically prescribed hash oil, drew global attention to the Putin regime’s harsh treatment of marijuana users.

Griner spent nearly 10 months in jail before being exchanged in a December 2022 prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Not so fortunate—so far—is Marc Fogel, an American history teacher who was also arrested last February for possession of medical marijuana. Fogel is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for drug trafficking.

Yet even as it cracks down on marijuana, the Russian government is liberalizing its regulation of the other predominant cultivar of Cannabis sativa—industrial hemp.

Production of hemp is steadily growing, mainly due to the loosening of local cultivation rules in parts of the country where the plant has been traditionally grown for centuries dating back to the days of the Russian Empire.


The World’s Hemp Supplier

Tsarist Russia produced 40 percent of all hemp used in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries, according to historian Georgy Manaev. Until the 1960s, the USSR was the world leader in the production of hemp fiber and other products derived from industrial hemp, accounting for 80 percent of global crop production. The total area devoted to hemp cultivation in the USSR has been estimated to have reached 680,000 hectares.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, hemp production declined precipitously but did not disappear. In 2022, industrial hemp was officially returned to the crop rotation in Russia. Currently, hemp is actively grown on about 14,000 hectares in the country, according to Milena Aleksandrova, general director of the Russian Agro-Industrial Association of Hemp Growers (APAK).

The Good & The Bad

“The Russian hemp market is growing. Currently, local businesses are assessing the possibilities of the crop, looking at soil and climatic conditions. Of course, the Russian market is not as large as the European one but has prospects for further growth,” Aleksandrova said.

According to hemp farmer Artem Klimovich, who grows the crop in the Moscow region, Russia has its own particular hemp varieties growing to about 3 meters which are suited to the country’s climate.

Local producers like Klimovich say current rules for growing are better but not perfect. The legal designation between narcotic and non-narcotic cannabis is not clear.

Russian law governing cannabis remains among the world’s strictest. Possession of psychoactive cannabis is illegal across the board. Possession of less than 6 grams may result in weeks in jail, while getting caught with more than that often leads to years in prison.


Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering agriculture and the global hemp industry.



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