New bill on drug propaganda: the threat and what market players think

State Duma Committee approved fines for drug propaganda in literature and works of art in the second reading

New bill on drug propaganda: the threat and what market players think
Photo: Екатерина Петрова

In March 2023, the government introduced a package of bills clarifying the concept of propaganda and drug trafficking. In the second reading, the State Duma Committee approved fines of up to 600 thousand rubles for distributing or displaying objects of literature and art with information about drugs without appropriate labeling. How the new bill is going to affect the book and film industry — in the new material by Ekaterina Petrova, a literary columnist for Realnoe Vremya.

If adopted, the bill comes into force on September 1

In March 2024, the government commission on legislative activity approved the amendments made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on drug propaganda. The authors of the document allow the demonstration or information about narcotic substances in films, TV series, books and other works of art only if there is a label. It must specify administrative and criminal liability for illegal trafficking of prohibited substances, as well as information about mental and behavioral disorders and other diseases from the use of narcotic substances. Only if there is a label, information about drugs will not be considered propaganda.

But this is not all. In books, films and TV series, there must be no mention at all of the methods, methods of developing, manufacturing and using drugs, places of their acquisition, methods and places of cultivation of narcotic plants. Articles covering the activities of law enforcement agencies in the fight against drugs, as well as educational, scientific and expert activities, do not fall under this rule.

On May 27, the State Duma Committee on State Construction recommended the adoption of amendments that provide for fines for the distribution and demonstration of literature and works of art with information about drugs, their analogues and precursors containing narcotic drugs of plants or psychotropic substances or their precursors.

If an individual commits an offense, they will face a fine of 2 to 4 thousand rubles with confiscation of products without labelling. Officials will get a fine from 10 to 30 thousand rubles, also with confiscation. An individual entrepreneur will have a similar fine or suspension of activity for three months. For legal entities, the fine will amount to 300-600 thousand rubles with confiscation of products without labelling or suspension of activity for three months.

For repeated violations on the Internet, one can face a fine of 100 to 300 thousand rubles, or in the amount of a salary for a period of one to two years, or correctional labour on average from 180 to 240 hours. But the maximum penalty in terms of compulsory work can be up to two years.

If the law is passed, it enters into force on September 1, 2024.

“It is realistic to introduce such regulation only on content that will be released after the adoption of amendments”

As in the case of the law banning LGBT propaganda, the authors of the bill did not take into account the opinions of market players. “The law provides for both fines and criminal liability, but consultations with industry participants regarding the mechanisms and deadlines for the implementation of the proposed solutions were not conducted," a representative of the press service of the publishing group Eksmo-AST told Realnoe Vremya.

In its current form, the bill implies labelling of all content in general, where there is a mention of drugs and narcotic drugs. That is, in all books there must be a footnote, in all films and TV series — a pop-up bar or a warning before the start of the broadcast. In terms of film production, there is no explanation of what kind of labelling must be. If this information pops up at every mention, then it is unclear how the viewer will be able to watch, for example, the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And Hunter Thompson's book of the same name can significantly increase in volume. The situation is similar with the works of American writer William Burroughs.

Most of the questions arise about streaming services, which have hundreds of thousands of works in their catalogs. According to the bill (if adopted), this data set must be checked and labelled.

“At the moment, there is neither open data nor ready-made technologies that would allow checking tens of millions of pieces of content in such a short period of time. At the same time, in the current version of the bill, there are no clear criteria for determining drug propaganda and requirements for what such a warning must look like," a representative of the Yandex press service, which includes the Yandex Music, Kinopoisk and Bookmate services, told Realnoe Vremya.

Market players believe that it will be possible to comply with the requirements of the law only if the content released after September 1, 2024 is labelled.

“The new legislative initiative, in our opinion, should regulate the release of works after September 1, 2024, and all works released before that date can be marked accordingly at the request of regulatory authorities. This will exclude the extension of the bill to works of classics and books of cultural and scientific value, and will make the legislative initiative realistic for execution in the required time, the press service of the publishing group Eksmo-AST said.

A similar opinion is shared by Yandex:

“It is realistic to introduce such regulation only on content that will be released after the adoption of amendments. This will allow not only platforms, retail, but also content producers to adapt to new requirements. Otherwise, for example, it is unclear how libraries and museums will be able to adapt to the new standards in such a time frame," said the representative of the Yandex press service.

If the authors of the bill provide for labeling of all content in general, where there is a mention of narcotic drugs, then market players doubt the realism of its execution. For example, online services will need at least one year to develop a technical solution and check their catalogs.

“Shorter deadlines may lead to massive claims and significant fines from regulators to market players who will not be able to fulfill the requirement due to insufficient time. We hope that the current practice of fines in relation to online services will be revised towards warnings — fines will be applied only for non-compliance with the requirements of government agencies," the Yandex press service noted.

Ekaterina Petrova — literary reviewer of Realnoe Vremya online newsppaer, author of Poppy Seed Muffins (Булочки с маком) telegram channel, and founder of the first online subscription book club Makulatura.

Ekaterina Petrova

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