A United States citizen, teacher, and lecturer was slapped with 14 years of hard time in prison for a little bit of pot found in his luggage at an airport in Moscow, Russia. It’s the latest move in a series of harsh sentences dished out on Americans in the country, including WNBA star Brittney Griner.
On August 14, 2021, Marc Hilliard Fogel, then 60, was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow when half an ounce of weed (approximately 14 grams) in various forms was discovered in his luggage. Fogel was approved by a doctor in the United States for medical cannabis for chronic pain following a series of serious surgeries.
The Fogels had been teaching abroad in places including Russia for years, but they were used to less security at that airport during previous flights. Something went terribly wrong, and Fogel told his wife he’d packed 14 vape carts and put some flower in a contact lens case. He thought he could get away with stashing some in his luggage for his trip back to Russia after a trip in the U.S. The Fogels were heading back to Moscow to celebrate Marc’s 10th year of teaching the children of U.S. diplomats.
Russian police discovered the weed, and he immediately knew the country doesn’t play games when it comes to cannabis, especially when it’s a U.S. citizen. But Fogel assumed he’d be looking at deportation, or some other punishment—not hard time.
Fogel has already spent 11 months in various Russian detainment centers for his “crime.” But hearing the judge say “14 years” was a crushing moment for Fogel and his family, The Washington Post reports.
“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” Jane Fogel told The Washington Post. “It’s terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”
You can’t help but make the connections to WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner, who is currently being detained for her “crime” of a couple of vape pens. Since Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there is a “substantial proposal” to free both Griner and another unjustly detained American, Paul Whelan, Fogel’s family has hope that he might not have to sit in prison for 14 years.
Fogel was fed things like bowls of gruel and dried apricots, depending on what Russian prison he was in.
“He says what he wants in English, someone translates for him, one of his cellmates, and depending on how good their English is is how accurate of a picture we get of what is happening,” Anne Fogel said. “It’s very convoluted and it’s incredibly worrisome because we can’t really have an honest conversation. Everything goes through the censors. It’s harrowing.”
But for Marc, he wasn’t happy to hear Griner might be released before himself. “That hurt,” Marc Fogel wrote in a letter. “Teachers are at least as important as ballers.”
Reality in Russia
President Vladimir Putin ramped up punishments for citizens and tourists alike including one particular new law that dishes out sentences of up to 15 years in prison for people who distribute “false news” about the Russian military. Russia has been accused of using prison sentences as a “tool for exercising control over society” by the Centre for Eastern Studies.
The Fogels are now calling to President Joe Biden to step in and get him out of Russian prison—just as efforts are being made to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, CNN reports.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, U.S.-Russian relations have obviously been strained, to say the least. It’s typical of Russia to rebrand normal U.S. citizens and athletes as drug pins, often allegedly with political motivations.
Nearly 5,000 people have already signed a petition on Change.org to free Marc Fogel from wrongful detainment in Russia.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.