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Brittney Griner’s imprisonment in Russia for bringing Hashish Oil into the country gets international headlines, but there is another case of an American serving time in Russia for weed. In 2021, a Russian court sentenced Marc Hilliard Fogel to 14 years for traveling to Russia with medical cannabis.
Fogel, a 60-year-old teacher, recently became the focus of a Washington Post article as the “other American” in jail for trying to bring pot into Russia. His family hopes that getting media attention to his name will help garner the same attention that Griner has received.
What we know about the ‘other American’
Fogel built a long career by teaching International Baccalaureate history courses to children of U.S. diplomats. For the past decade, his work has taken him to various countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and Russia.
That ended abruptly in 2021 when Russian authorities detained Fogel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after finding cannabis in his luggage. The 60-year-old has a prescription for medical marijuana from a doctor in the United States to treat chronic pain (Fogel has experienced numerous injuries and surgeries). After almost a year of waiting for trial, a Russian judge in June 2022 gave Fogel a 14-year sentence.
Jane Fogel, his wife, told WP it appears unlikely her husband will be included in any swap the Biden Administration might do with Russia for the release of Griner, a player in the WNBA. She fears her husband “will be left behind” and added that at times she already feels like a widow.
How much to pay for a mistake?
Much of the debate in both cases revolves around Fogel and Griner not knowing the Russian law on cannabis possession rather than the draconian nature of the Russian law itself. Many consider serving 14 years in prison for carrying small amounts of medical marijuana overkill.
Russian law enforcement found 14 vape cartridges of medical marijuana in Fogel’s suitcase and some buds in a contact lens case. Russian authorities charged him with possession and intent to sell to students. Griner, who also had a prescription for medical marijuana, carried vape cartridges that contained hashish oil. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
Medical marijuana is illegal in Russia. But the Biden Administration has officially designated Griner as “wrongfully detained.” However, as pointed out by the New York Times, thousands of people in the United States remain in prison for using or selling cannabis, and it remains illegal at the federal level. The WNBA also bans it.
Fogel painted as a drug dealer
The Fogel case also shows what can happen if prosecutors decide to pursue a case for propaganda purposes.
Like Griner, Fogel did not deny carrying the cannabis in his luggage. WP reported that Fogel hoped for leniency and has been an advocate for Russia. But prosecutors described Fogel as a large-scale drug dealer and also “falsely labeled him an employee of the U.S. Embassy.” In reality, he worked for the Anglo-American School of Moscow.
U.S. officials have not declared Fogel as “wrongfully detained” as they have with Griner. It’s a technical but essential designation, as it turns such cases over to the agency that handles negotiations, the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Jane Fogel said the family still hopes to get that designation for her imprisoned husband.