American Student Arrested for Bringing Medical Marijuana to Russia
Over 100,000 people were arrested for weed possession in Russia last year, and police regularly use cannabis prohibition laws to persecute activists and marginalized members of society.
Published on September 4, 2019

An American teenager may spend the next three years of her life in a Russian jail for bringing medical marijuana into the country.

Audrey Elise Lorber, a 19-year-old film student at Pace University in New York City, visited the Russian city of St. Petersburg with her mother this July. Lorber's vacation came to an unfortunate ending, however, when customs officials at Pulkovo Airport discovered that she was carrying a small supply of medical marijuana in her bag.

Lorber had just over 19 grams of pot on her person, along with a permit legally allowing her to use this medicine in her home state. This medical use permit carries no authority in Russia, however, and Lorber was arrested and charged with drug possession. “The defendant’s patent issued in the US on marijuana use as part of a medical program doesn’t extend to Russian territory,” court documents said, according to The Moscow Times.

Last spring, Russia announced that anyone wishing to travel to the 2018 World Cup could bring medical marijuana — or any drug of their choice — into the country, as long as they had a valid medical prescription from their country of origin. Clearly, these rules were only temporary and are no longer valid.

Lorber pleaded guilty, and has been serving time in Kresty Prison for a month while awaiting her trial, the date of which has not yet been set. If convicted, the teen could face a fine of around $600, be forced to do between 20 days and two years of mandatory labor, or be put in jail for as long as three years. Some media outlets believe that she will only be fined, but Lorber will remain in prison until she has been tried.

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Cannabis reform has been sweeping the globe since the turn of the 21st Century, but the wave of legalization has not reached the shores of the former Soviet Union. Russian drug prohibition laws are among the most punitive that the world has ever seen. Unlike the US, where federal prohibition continues even though most Americans support legalization, the majority of Russian citizens actually want their government to toughen drug laws and increase penalties for users.

Last year, over 100,000 Russians were thrown in jail for minor cannabis possession. Activists report that cops also use cannabis prohibition laws as an excuse to persecute marginalized members of Russian society, like liberal journalists or LGBTQ+ community members. Police have reportedly used Tinder to trick young gay men into bringing cannabis to a meetup location, and then forcing them to either pay a bribe or be charged under the country's extreme drug laws.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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