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Russia Sentences American Teacher to 14 Years in Prison for Smuggling Weed

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

June 20, 2022

An American school teacher has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted by a Russian court of “large-scale” drug smuggling. The conviction of Mark Fogel, a former U.S. diplomat who was working as an English teacher in Moscow, was announced the same week that Russian authorities extended the detention of

, the WNBA star who was arrested for cannabis possession earlier this year.

In January, Russian authorities announced that Fogel had been arrested at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after arriving on a flight from New York with his wife in August 2021. 

“During customs checks, the marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage,” Russian officials said in a statement when Fogel’s arrest was revealed months after he was apprehended by authorities.

“The drugs were carefully disguised: marijuana was packaged in contact lens case, and cannabis oil was contained in e-cigarette cartridges,”

continues. “All of it was wrapped in plastic and hidden in his sneakers.”

On Thursday, the Khimki court said that Fogel had pleaded guilty.

“The American citizen Fogel has been found guilty,”

in a statement. It added that Fogel had committed “large-scale drugs smuggling” by crossing the Russian border, as well as “large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose.”

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the court said it had “sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment to be served in a high-security penal colony.”

Teacher in Russia Was Former U.S. Diplomat

Fogel had worked as an English teacher at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Russian officials said before that, he worked at the U.S. embassy in Moscow and was protected by diplomatic immunity until May 2021. Fogel reportedly told authorities that he had received a recommendation for medical cannabis in the United States after a spinal operation. Russia has no laws that allow for the medicinal use of cannabis, however.

“He insists that it was medical marijuana and claims that a doctor prescribed it to him in the United States, which is allegedly confirmed by an entry in the medical record,” attorney Alexander Khurudzhi, a member of a Moscow human rights committee that visited Fogel in December, told Russian media. 

“He claims he was unaware of Russia’s ban on medical marijuana,” Khurudhzi said.

Fogel told attorneys in December that he had brought 17 grams (slightly more than half an ounce) of cannabis with him to Russia from New York. The Russian Interior Ministry did not specify the amount of cannabis Fogel had at the time of his arrest, but the law in the country specifies that a “large amount” of cannabis is 100 grams (abour 3.5 ounces) or more.

Russian Authorities Extend Detention of Brittney Griner

Fogel’s case is similar to that of Brittney Griner, the American basketball star who was arrested under similar circumstances in February. Last week, the Russian state news agency TASS reported that Griner’s detention has been extended until at least July 2, the second time authorities have lengthened her stay in jail as she awaits a hearing in the case. But Aron Solomon, the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital, told Insider that the reported deadline “is as fictitious as any other date.”

“Anyone still taking Russia’s word for anything in the Griner case is being foolish,”

. “This ‘hearing’ will never happen.”

“She will either be clandestinely found guilty and sent to prison camp or she will be in a prisoner swap,” Solomon added.

Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since the 2013 season, including the team’s 2014 league championship crew. She has also won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team twice. 

Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA off-season, a common practice among the league’s players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her latest game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner the name of the player was not included in the report. Russian authorities also released a video that appeared to show the star center with customs officials at an airport security checkpoint.

The Russian state news agency TASS later reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.

“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,”

in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced.

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington