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Amid elevated tensions with the US on the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has sentenced teacher Marc Fogel, who is in his sixties and is from the US, to 14 years in prison for cannabis trafficking.
The Anglo-American School of Moscow instructor insists that he had been prescribed the half-ounce of cannabis for his recovery from a spinal surgery. The Russian government could care less — medical marijuana is very much not legal in the country, a fact of which Fogel says he was unaware, according to a human rights lawyer who visited with him.
Fogel was detained in August 2021 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, as he and his wife arrived on a flight from New York just months after the diplomatic immunity expired that he enjoyed from having been employed at the US embassy.
According to the BBC, Russia’s Interfax state news agency reported that Fogel pled guilty to “smuggling, storing, transporting, manufacturing and processing narcotic drugs.”
"The American citizen Fogel has been found guilty," CBS reported as having came from a statement from Moscow’s Khimki city court. The communication said that the cannabis was found in e-cig vape cartridges and a contact lens case, referring to Fogel’s crime as "large-scale drugs smuggling" and the "large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose."
Russian authorities have not publicly confirmed the amount of cannabis with which Fogel was caught. According to CBS, Russian law classifies a “large amount” of cannabis as anything above 3.5 ounces (100 grams.) Anything below that, down to six grams, is seen as a “significant amount,” which can be punished with just a fine, or a reduced prison sentence.
The medicinal marijuana ban has been lifted in the past by Russia for certain qualified visitors, as in the case for attendees of the 2018 Olympics.
The ruling casts a worrisome light on the fate of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been awaiting trial in Russia since mid-February, when she was allegedly caught with vape cartridges in her suitcase at the Moscow airport. Last month, her trial was delayed again by the Khimki court, this time by another month.
On Saturday, Griner’s wife Cherelle missed her first and only thus-far-scheduled call with Brittney due to a US embassy staffing snafu.
A frustrated Cherelle told the Associated Press she has been hoping for an audience with President Biden regarding her wife’s fate, but that “at this point, it’s starting to feel like a no.”
Some hope remains that the United States will trade a Russian prisoner in exchange for Griner’s release, as the federal government did in the case of former Marine Trevor Reed in April. Reed was accused of violence against a Russian officer in 2019. His freedom was bought with the release of Russian pilot and alleged cocaine smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Amid its war with Russia, Ukraine announced that its parliament is considering the legalization of medical marijuana. Health minister Viktor Liashko announced that the bill is geared in part toward treating post-traumatic stress disorder that the government expects will be widespread due to its ongoing war with occupying Russian forces.