Senate Resolution Calls For Release of Russian Cannabis Prisoner Marc Fogel

Fogel was arrested for possessing cannabis in 2021, and since then he has been sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison.

Marc Fogel received a 14-year sentence for “large-scale drugs smuggling” after he was found in possession of just half an ounce of cannabis in Russia in August 2021. While legislators have made many attempts to assist Fogel in returning to the U.S., there has been little traction in the effort.

Most recently, the U.S. Senate approved S.Con.Res.18 on June 4, which argues that Fogel was using medical cannabis legally in Pennsylvania for a variety of pain he suffers from. “Marc Fogel has undergone three back surgeries, a spinal fusion, a hip replacement, and two knee surgeries to correct various injuries and health issues, which have left him with chronic back pain and a permanent limp,” the resolution stated. It continued to explain that Fogel chose not to rely on opioids to treat his pain, and instead was prescribed medical cannabis.

Unfortunately, the “Government of the Russian Federation has presented no evidence to the contrary,” but still sentenced Fogel to serve a sentence of 14-years in a Russian penal colony. 

Sponsor Sen. Bob Casey, spoke on the Senate floor on June 5 after the resolution had already passed. That pain came from a hip replacement. It came from multiple back surgeries, multiple knee surgeries, and a spinal fusion, which has left Marc with a permanent limp,” said Casey. “Marc’s worsening medical conditions and actions to bring in less than an ounce of marijuana into Russia should not require him to serve the full 14-year sentence and a Russian penal colony—14 years imprisonment for less than an ounce of marijuana.”

Casey also addressed that a Russian lawyer told Fogel’s family that low-level cannabis possession usually led to five years probation, and previous offenders have received a lesser sentence when more cannabis was involved. “Marc Fogel’s sentence is vastly disproportionate to the severity of his nonviolent crime, wildly dissimilar to the typical punishments for comparable offenses in Russia, and clearly motivated by ongoing political tensions between Russia and the United States,” the resolution explained.

It concludes by calling on Russia to release Fogel, for the U.S. to “press for his immediate release,” condemns Russia for detaining a U.S. citizen, calls for the release of other prisoners also serving “wrongful and unlawful” Russian prison sentences (citing Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich, Ksenia Khavana, Alsu Kurmasheva, and Vladimir Kara-Murza), and finally expressed “sympathy for and solidarity with” the families of those who have been detained and sentenced for various crimes.

S.Con.Res.18 was first introduced in June 2021, but the House bill H.Con.Res.60 has not yet been reviewed. “Marc Fogel has devoted his life to educating students around the world, from Pittsburgh to Oman to Venezuela to Moscow,” Casey said in a press release. “After nearly three years of captivity, Marc’s health is rapidly declining and his life is in danger. I urge President Biden and his administration to do everything possible to bring Marc home.”

The Senate resolution’s cosponsors include Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. John Fetterman, Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Thomas Tillis, and Sen. Christopher Coons, each of which also presented a press statement about Fogel’s situation. “Marc Fogel’s imprisonment is unjust and unacceptable, and it has continued for far too long,” Tester said. “I’m glad to see our bipartisan resolution demanding his release pass the Senate, and I will continue pushing the Administration and using every tool at my disposal to secure his return and ensure this innocent American is finally reunited with his loved ones.”

Fetterman also explained the necessity of focusing on bringing Fogel home. “The passage of this resolution sends a very clear message: it’s time to bring Marc Fogel home,” Fetterman said. “Anyone who knows Marc—his family, friends, and students—will tell you about his infectious positivity and the countless lives he has changed in his 35 years of teaching. Marc and his family deserve to see each other again. We’ve seen the incredible work of the Biden Administration in bringing Brittney Griner and Trevor Reed home. Now let’s bring Marc home.”

Olympic athlete and WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia for having cannabis oil in her luggage in February 2022. By August, a Russian court determined her guilty of violating the country’s law on cannabis and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. Griner was eventually released in December 2022 in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Now Griner is working with ESPN and Disney to produce a documentary about her experience. 

Trevor Reed allegedly assaulted two Russian police officers in 2019, and was imprisoned in 2020 with a nine-year prison sentence. In April 2022, he was released in exchange for Russian pilot and drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko.

While Russia has sentenced many U.S. citizens to prison, the number of cannabis prisoners in the U.S. still remains a problem. Last October, the advocacy organization Last Prisoner Project highlighted the current status of cannabis prisoners in its “State of Cannabis Justice Report.” “As we mark the first anniversary of President Biden’s cannabis proclamation, Last Prisoner Project reaffirms its dedication to the pursuit of justice, equity, and compassion,” the announcement stated. “We remain committed to dismantling the harmful legacy of the War on Drugs and ensuring that those affected by cannabis prohibition are not forgotten.”

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