Former U.S. Embassy diplomat Marc Fogel was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for cannabis trafficking. Aside from his role at the U.S. Embassy, Fogel was working as an English teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow, Russia. On August 15, 2021, he was caught in possession of 17 grams (or 0.6 ounces) of cannabis in his luggage at the Sheremetyevo International Airport. He had diplomatic immunity until May 2021.
According to a recent Moscow court ruling, “The American citizen Fogel has been found guilty” because of “large-scale drugs smuggling, large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose.”
Fogel said that a doctor had recommended medical cannabis to him in the U.S. to treat pain that followed after he had spinal surgery. “He insists that it was medical marijuana and claims that a doctor prescribed it to him in the United States, which is allegedly confirmed by an entry in the medical record,” said Moscow human rights committee member Alexander Khurudzhi. Furthermore, Fogel argued that he did not know that medical cannabis was illegal.
A Russian news agency called Interfax reported that Fogel has plead guilty to these charges: “On June 16, 2022, the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region found U.S. citizen Marc Fogel guilty of committing crimes under Part 3 of Article 229.1 (drug smuggling), Part 2 of Article 228 (illegal acquisition, possession, transportation, manufacture, and processing of narcotic drugs) of the Russian Criminal Code, and sentenced him to 14 years’ imprisonment to be served in a high-security penal colony,” Interfax wrote.
This ruling occurred in the same jurisdiction that is discussing the detainment of WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, who was arrested for possession of vape cartridges in February. Most recently, Lebron James called out for support. “We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James said on Twitter, in partnership with a support campaign called “We Are BG” from Uninterrupted.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” Uninterrupted wrote and shared on social media. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
According to TMZ, famous Boxer Roy Jones Jr. (who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Russia) is currently assisting with getting Griner released. However, most recent coverage reports that Griner’s detention will last until at least July 7.
In Russia, both adult-use and medical cannabis is illegal. This isn’t the first time that cannabis has gotten foreign visitors to Russia in hot water. In 2019, a 26-year-old woman traveling from India to Israel was found in possession of nine grams of cannabis—to which she received over seven months of time in prison for drug trafficking (although she was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2020). Similarly, a 19-year-old film student traveled to Russia with 19 grams of medical cannabis and spent a month in prison, and left with a 15,000 rubles fine ($230 in U.S. dollars).
In the case of Griner, U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins told AZcentral.com that cannabis possession is frequently used as a way to convict targeted individuals. “In this case, Russian authorities appear to be using alleged cannabis possession as a pretext for holding a prominent American as leverage. Brittney Griner must not be used as a pawn by Russia. We urge the U.S. government to use all available channels to secure her speedy return home.”