American Teaching in Russia Sentences to 14 years for “Large Scale” Cannabis Smuggling.
Marc Fogel, an Ex diplomat of the U.S Embassy was recently convicted of cannabis trafficking and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. Apart from being an ex-diplomat of the U.S Embassy, Fogel worked as an English teacher in Moscow, Russia, teaching at the Anglo-American School.
On the 15th of August 2021, he was arrested for possessing 0.6 ounces (17 grams) of cannabis which he kept in his luggage. Fogel’s arrest was made at the Sheremetyevo International Airport considering his diplomatic immunity expired in May 2021.
Following the latest Moscow court decree, Fogel was declared guilty of large-scale smuggling of drugs, and illicit storage of drugs on a large scale without intent to sell. However, according to Fogel, the cannabis in his possession was prescribed to him in the U.S for the treatment of back pain due to just spinal surgery.
According to Alexander Khurudzhi, a committee member of Moscow human rights, Fogel’s claim was backed up by his medical report which proves he’s telling the truth. Fogel also admitted he was ignorant of the law in Russia and believed recreational cannabis is legal in the country.
Reports from Interfax, a Russian news agency, indicate that Fogel pleaded guilty to the charges issued against him. On the 16th of June 2022, the Court in Khimki City ruled that Marc Fogel, a citizen of the United States, was found guilty of drug smuggling.
The verdict falls under Article 228 Part 2 (possession, manufacture, illegal acquisition, processing, and transportation of narcotic drugs) and Article 229.1 Part 3 (drug smuggling) of the Russian Criminal Code. The Court ruled that Fogel should serve a jail time of 14 years in a high-security penal colony.
The verdict reached by the Court materialized in a similar jurisdiction that is evaluating the detainment of Brittney Griner, a WNBA athlete. He was arrested for the possession of vape cartridges. In support of Griner, Lebron James has voiced out urging the public and those in power to do everything possible to help bring BG home safely.
According to Uninterrupted on social media, BG has experienced inhumane conditions for more than 100 days in a Russian prison, disconnected from families and loved ones. Considering BG is an active member of the elite international sports community and a decorated Olympian, the situation needs to be resolved quickly. If not for anything but got the sanity of all sports and internationally traveling Americans. The U.S authority must deal with this human rights issue and commit ever to bringing BG home.
Reports from TMZ affirmed that Roy Jones Jr., a popular boxer and a dual citizen of Russia and the U.S is helping out to get Grinster released. However, present rumors claim Griner’s detention will be until the 7th of July.
As it stands both medical and recreational use of cannabis is illegal in Russia. This won’t be the first time an American citizen will be finding themselves in such a situation. A 29 years old woman traveling to Israel from India in 2019 was arrested for cannabis possession. A total of 9 grams of cannabis was found in her possession and she was sentenced to 7 months imprisonment. Likewise, a 19-year-old student who traveled down to Russia with the possession of 19 grams of cannabis was fined 15,000 rubles ($230) and imprisoned for one month in jail.
As regards Griner’s cases, Steven Hawkins, the CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council made some brave claims in an interview with AZcentral.com. He mentioned that cannabis possession is often a targeting campaign to convict specific individuals. He affirmed that the Russian government is making use of plausible cannabis possession as a pretext for detaining well-known Americans and using them as leverage. He went on to say that Brittney Griner must not be utilized as a pawn by the Russian Government. He urges the U.S government to use all available resources to secure her release home.
Russia’s Stance on Cannabis
Looking at the current happenings in Russia, the country is quite far from cannabis legalization both for recreational and medicinal use. Right now, both medicinal and recreational cannabis use is illegal in Russia.
In 2004, a review of the drug laws in Russia was made and changes such as cannabis possession to a maximum of 20 grams were considered an administrative offense with no jail time. However, the country retraced its steps in 2006 when the Russian government annulled No.231 RF Government Decree of May 2004. Hence, the maximum amount was reduced to 6 grams.
Since the change, cannabis possession of more than 6 grams is deemed a large amount in Russia. Cannabis possession of more than 100 grams is regarded as “an exceptionally large amount.” And as things are, both offenses can lead to years-long jail time. However, possession below the 6 grams benchmark attracts corrective labor or a fine.
The Moscow Times in June 2019, reported that Russia has the highest number of people per capita incarcerated for drug crimes across Europe. According to Interfax, Russian Health Minister, Yevgeny Bryun, in November 2019 affirmed that medical cannabis uses are still being researched in the country. But so far, the use of cannabis remains illegal and will not be legalized unless a strain lacking the psychoactive substance is found.
According to Bryan, 1-3% of individuals who smoke cannabis go on to develop severe psychosis, which includes schizophrenia (a statement not backed by science), hence, cannabis legalization is not in the picture.
How do Russians generally view marijuana?
The Russians’ perspectives of cannabis are quite conservative similar to their government. In a survey conducted in 2018, it was discovered that the majority of Russians are opposed to cannabis legalization.
The 2018 survey which features 1,600 respondents discovered that 89% of Russia does not support the legalization of soft narcotics like cannabis. Just 8% were of contrary opinion. The survey also discovered that only 13% of 25-34-year-olds and 17% of 18-24-year-olds supported legalization.
While all actions are being taken to ensure the safe release of Brittney Griner, this should serve as a cautionary tale to every cannabis user both recreationally and medically. The laws governing cannabis legalization in your state or country mustn’t apply everywhere else. Therefore, it’s important one do due diligence about the laws that apply in a country you want to go on vacation or a business trip.