Twenty-five members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle have signed a letter requesting President Joe Biden’s administration, and particularly the State Department, to ramp up diplomatic actions aimed at securing the freedom of an American citizen who is currently in a Russian jail for possessing medical cannabis.
The bipartisan letter is spearheaded by Democratic Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, Republican Representative Guy Reschenthaler from Pennsylvania and Democratic Representative Conor Lamb, also from Pennsylvania. The American in question, Marc Forgel, had a 14-year custodial sentence slapped on him after he pled guilty to possessing a small amount of cannabis for medicinal use. The lawmakers want the State Department to act with “utmost urgency” and get this patient back on U.S. soil.
The letter states that despite Forgel’s cooperation with the authorities in Russia as well as his proof that he suffers from chronic pain and was prescribed medical cannabis by his doctor in Pennsylvania, the detainee was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment with hard labor. The lawmakers think this decision is “unconscionable.”
It is noteworthy that the lawmakers defending Forgel for using medical marijuana are both Republicans and Democrats. This is significant because the federal government still insists that marijuana has no known medical application in the U.S., and yet this letter is urging the State Department to do everything in its power to have this citizen released and returned to the United States. Federal drug laws are in sharp contrast to the contents of the letter.
The 16 members of the House of Representatives together with the nine senators want the federal government to classify Forgel as someone who is wrongfully detained and therefore deploy any diplomatic resources necessary with the aim of securing his freedom. The “wrongful detention” classification was recently accorded to another U.S. national, Brittney Griner, after she was arrested and sentenced to nine years in jail for possessing medical marijuana. Griner is an athlete who had travelled to represent the U.S. in the WNBA competitions in Russia. She appealed the sentence, and a court in Russia rejected her appeal.
The 25 lawmakers say Forgel’s case is no different from that of Griner, and he too should be designated as wrongfully detained.
According to a spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, 11 factors are weighed before anyone can be categorized as wrongfully detained in a foreign country. One such factor is whether due process has been abused or whether the person is being victimized just because they are a U.S. citizen.
The contradictions between state-level marijuana laws and U.S. federal regulations are beginning to show their ugly side on foreign soil, and this makes it urgent for those inconsistencies to be resolved. The federal authorities need to be more progressive so that enterprises such as American Cannabis Partners operating in the domestic cannabis industry can take on a more national character as the country’ foreign policy also evolves to take into account the changing realities pertaining to substances like marijuana.
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