Marijuana is now legalized in most U.S. states. But what happens if a U.S. citizen travels to a foreign country possessing marijuana? For example, there have been Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession.
Well, the House of Representatives has decided to do something about it. They unanimously approved a resolution for Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession. The measure was introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and passed in a vote of 422-0.
The Focus of the Resolution for Americans Imprisoned in Russia for Marijuana Possession
The measure concerning Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession focused on Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who is serving a 14-year sentence for possessing marijuana that he legally purchased in Pennsylvania. He was arrested in Russia in March on charges of espionage which have been widely challenged as false by U.S. officials and media groups.
However, the bill goes on to protect all Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession. It states that the House “expresses continued support for all American citizens and lawful permanent residents detained in Russia and abroad including Marc Fogel who faces a politicized, excessive sentence for his alleged offense.”
Another Case of Americans Imprisoned in Russia for Marijuana Possession
American schoolteacher Marc Fogel is another one of the Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession whose case has been gaining a lot of attention.
Like Gershkovich, Fogel is also being detained in a Russian prison for marijuana possession. He claims his cannabis was medical marijuana that was recommended to him by a Pennsylvania doctor. His claims have been acknowledged by bipartisan members who, along with lawmakers, have been initiating efforts to have him released.
Among his supporters are Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. The two collaborated on a letter that was sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken requesting the government designate Fogel as illegally detained and asking them to prioritize efforts to secure his release.
The officials stated that Fogel’s charges were “similar to those of Brittney Griner” an American basketball player who was imprisoned in Russia for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She was designated as wrongfully detained and released in a prisoner swap organized by the Biden administration.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) collaborated with other senators on a letter asking the State Department to classify Fogel as “wrongfully detained” shortly after other Pennsylvania congressional delegation bipartisan members requested that the State Department escalate Fogel’s case. They also brought up similarities between Fogel’s case and Brittney Griner’s.
At the end of 2022, over two dozen members of Congress requested that the State Department increase its efforts in securing Fogel’s release. They called his imprisonment “unconscionable”.
The White House said they were actively investigating Fogel’s case and would continue with its efforts to bring him home.
Other Americans Imprisoned in Russia for Marijuana Possession
Fogel and Gershkovich are just two of the many Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the administration’s efforts to secure the release of other prisoners. She deferred to the State Department stating, “Every case is different”. She also said she didn’t want to jump the gun on diplomatic efforts.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price explained that officials consider an 11-point criteria when determining whether a case qualifies for wrongful detention. Requirements being considered include whether the U.S. believes due process is not being served, if the person was arrested just because they are a U.S. national, or if they are innocent of the charges.
Russia’s Views of Weed Legalization
Russia is known as being a strict, communist country. The deputy of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated last year in a social media post that legalization efforts in the United States and Canada are “of serious concern for us. It is worrisome that several Member States of the (European Union) are considering violating their drug obligations.”
While Russia is far from making recreational and medical marijuana legal, they have made efforts to scale back cannabis-related laws. In 2004, the country revised its laws to make possession of 20 grams of cannabis an administrative offense not subject to incarceration. It also canceled the RF Government Decree No. 231 of May 2004 in 2006, a move that increased the drug threshold that would lead to criminal liability to 6 grams.
Under current law, possessing 6 grams of cannabis or more can result in years-long prison sentences. Possession of fewer than 6 grams may be punished by a fine or “corrective labor”.
In 2019, the Moscow Times reported that Russia has the highest per capita number of people imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe.
That same year, Yevgeny Bryan of the Russian Health Ministry was quoted as saying, “Medical marijuana uses are being researched in Russia” but that cannabis would not be legalized “unless a variety that does not cause psychosis is found”.
As an aside, CBD is not legal in Russia nor is any cannabis product.
The Moscow Times reveals that the country has gone so far as to resort to using Tinder to lure in a 19-year-old man to be arrested for possession of less than 7 grams of marijuana.
According to surveys, the people of Russia have adopted their government’s conservative views. A 2018 telephone survey found that 89% of Russians oppose the legalization of marijuana and other soft drugs while only 8% are in favor.
With this attitude, it is no surprise that there are many Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession. Those planning to visit the country are advised not to travel with any cannabis in their possession. Those carrying any quantity of the drug, including less than 6 grams, could be looking at abuse, bribe demands, and other legal issues. The police may also try to say you were carrying more than 6 grams.
Consuming cannabis or trying to buy it within the country is also ill-advised as it could get you in legal trouble and it can make Russian citizens angry.
In the meantime, we can only hope that Americans imprisoned in Russia for marijuana possession are brought home soon and that a positive change is on the horizon.