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Yukos Relieved of Drug Lawsuit

Yukos has won a rare court victory. It can now legally sell Cannabis Vodka. The oil giant and its billionaire owners, who are fighting multibillion-dollar tax claims, as well as tax and fraud charges, may rest a little easier after a Voronezh court threw out a lawsuit claiming they were promoting drug use by selling the vodka at one of their gas stations.

The case started when three drug agents confiscated a bottle of the Czech-made vodka from Gas Station No. 26 in Voronezh on April 2nd, said Prokhor Merkushov, spokesman for Voronezhnefteprodukt, the Yukos subsidiary that owns the station.

The Federal Anti-Drug Service then filed a complaint that Voronezhnefteprodukt had violated Article 6.13 of the Administrative Code, which forbids the promotion of drugs, and the law on advertising, which forbids the promotion of drinking and drugs.

It said the court could just read the label of a bottle to see the merits of the case. Cannabis Vodka is sold in a clear glass bottle with a green marijuana leaf. Its label reads, "Cannabis vodka. An alcoholic drink prepared from hemp seed extract. Try this wonderful drink, but don't forget its extraordinary powers."

The Central Voro-nezh Court ordered a psycholinguistic examination of the label and ruled Monday that the text promoted vodka sales rather than drug use. The court also found that Voronezhnefteprodukt was not in violation of the advertising law since it has not promoted the vodka in any way. Merkushov said Tuesday that his company has no plans to take the case further. He said, however, that he found it strange that the vodka, which is sold in stores across the country, was only confiscated from the one gas station. "Why was only Yukos mentioned in this case? This suggests that it was done for show," Merkushov said. He said the vodka bottle has been returned. An anti-drug official, however, suggested that the case was not over. "They won today, but who knows what will happen tomorrow?" said the official, who spoke on condition that his name not be printed. Cannabis Vodka is made by the Czech-based L'OR, which also produces a range of absinthes.

Robert Gross, L'OR's spokesman for Russia and English-speaking countries, said he was unaware of the Yukos case but not surprised by it.

He insisted that the vodka is absolutely safe and legal since it contains no delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main chemical ingredient in marijuana.

Rotor House, which has been distributing Cannabis Vodka in Russia for two years, said it has won several cases filed by the anti-drug service this year. Anti-drug officials took an interest three months ago when Rotor House starting selling the bottles in a gift box with shot glasses decorated with marijuana leaves, said a senior company official, who asked not to be identified.

(The St. Petersburg Times 11.vi.04)

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