Audrey Elizabeth Lorber, an American film student, is currently behind bars in Russia facing marijuana possession charges. Russian authorities allege Lorber illegally brought cannabis into the country after police discovered over 19 grams in her possession at the Pulkovo Airport. Based in New York, Lorber is a registered medical cannabis patient. But Russian courts say Lorber’s New York medical cannabis authorization doesn’t extend to Russia. Russia harshly penalizes drugs, and marijuana possession charges can carry a sentence of up to three years.
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Audrey Lorber majors in film at Pace University in Manhattan. And her recent social media posts show she’s been traveling across Russia with her mother. Now, however, Lorber is facing drug possession charges in St. Petersburg for carrying her medical cannabis with her into Russia.
On September 2, St. Petersburg courts announced the criminal case against Lorber via Telegram. Translated, the post accuses Lorber of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The post specifies that the charges allege Lorber obtained the cannabis in the United States. A search of her luggage in the Pulkovo airport turned up the 19.05 grams she was carrying.
The court’s announcement also says that Lorber has already pleaded guilty to the drug possession charge. But so far, no date has been set for her trial.
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Compared to the rest of Europe, Russia has the most people per capital imprisoned for drug crimes. Almost all of them were convicted under Article 228, the same law that Lorber stands accused of breaking. In Russia, this draconian anti-drug law has a nickname, “the people’s article,” because of how many people it has put in jail. In 2018, 100,000 people went to jail for drug crimes covered under Article 228.
Just a couple months ago, Article 228 busted another foreign citizen, American-Israeli Naama Issachar, for allegedly smuggling cannabis into the country. She was carrying just 9 grams of marijuana, and furthermore, denies it was even hers. Issachar has been detained since April, and she still hasn’t stood trial. Initially Russian authorities charged her with simple possession. But they subsequently increased the charge to smuggling, which can carry a sentence of 3 to 10 years in prison.
Article 228 is making life hard for Russian citizens, too. And in June, the arrest of a gay man tricked by cops posing as gay men on Tinder ignited public outrage over the law. These and other high profile arrests for personal amounts of cannabis have put intense public pressure on officials to loosen the law and relax penalties for possession.
Unlike in the United States, however, popular support for decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis isn’t strong. According to Russian state polling agencies, roughly 15 percent of citizens support legalization. But younger Russians, many of whom favor legalization and more lenient penalties, are signaling a shift. “We have the momentum with us,” said fashion-brand founder Yeger Yeremeev, who’s using apparel to launch a conversation about legal weed. “Suddenly everyone is talking about 228.”
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