American Student Held in Russian Prison Over Medical Cannabis

At the end of July, the American citizen and student at the Pace University, flew to St. Petersburg as a tourist.

U.S. citizen Audrey Eliza Lorber, 19, has been held in a St. Petersburg jail for over a month — and all because she allegedly tried to leave Russia with about 19 grams of cannabis that she received through a stateside medical program.

Lorber had a prescription for the drug which she had brought with her from the U.S., according to investigators, but they considered the prescription to be not valid in Russia.

Russia has harsh drug laws, which police enforce aggressively and carry long prison sentences. The offense that Lorber is charged with—Article 228 of Russia’s criminal code – is nicknamed “the people’s charge” because it is so frequently used to jail people.

On Monday, Sept. 2, the Joint Press Service of the courts of St. Petersburg announced that the Moscow District Court of St. Petersburg registered a criminal case against Lorber. She is accused of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

That section of the law dealing with Lorber’s possible punishment for personal cannabis use indicates she could be hit with a fine of up to 40,000 roubles, about $600 U.S. dollars. Other possibilities include a compulsory work for a term of up to 480 hours, corrective labor for a term of up to two years, or “by restriction of liberty for a term of up to three years,” which sounds like a prison sentence.

The charge is also notorious for being used in fabricated drugs cases. The Moscow Times noted in 2018, over 100,000 people went to jail in Russia under the same Article 228 of the criminal code that Lorber is being charged under. Activists in Russia say Article 228 is also used as a tool to go after people on the fringe of Russian society, such as people in the LGBTQ community or journalists working to oppose government corruption.

Lorber is a film student based in New York City, with a YouTube channel that has amassed over 22,000 followers. According to her website, Lorber was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. She started her YouTube channel right before she entered high school and has carried it over to Pace University in Manhattan, where she should be starting her sophomore year as a film major. Instead, she’s in a Russian prison.

Before her visit to Russia, she was not convicted – according to practice, in this case, she can get away with a fine and conditional punishment.

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