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.
This is according to various reports coming out of the Russian Federation in the last 48 hours. 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.
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.
“According to the investigation, Lorber acquired cannabis weighing 19.05 g in the United States at an unspecified time,” the Joint Press Service announced on Telegram. “The accused kept this drug with her for personal consumption. Cannabis was discovered in her things during the search in Pulkovo [Airport]. The [recommendation] held by the accused for the use of marijuana as part of a medical program, filed in the United States, does not apply to the territory of the Russian Federation. Lorber pleaded guilty.”
CrimeRussia noted that the search seemingly happened when Lorber was on her way home from the trip to Russia. The site also expects Lorber to get off with a fine, but she’s already been in St. Petersburg’s Kresty Prison for a month.
Kresty Prison is just a decade away from being 300 years old. It has been a staple of Russian history, hosting everyone from the last ministers of Czars to the victims of Stalin’s purges who were stuffed into isolation cells with 15 others in a space designed for one. It doesn’t make a lot of sense why a 19-year-old with a little bit of marijuana would be forced to endure the same conditions as some of the greatest enemies of the Russian, Soviet, then Russian-again state.
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.
One young gay man told the Moscow Times the tale of police luring him to an encounter via Tinder, telling him to bring weed. When he got there, two police greeted him and began searching him. He was faced with the opportunity to pay a bribe or have his life ruined.
“They told me they would charge me with possession of 7 grams of marijuana and open a criminal case against me, even though I had much less on me,” he said. “It would have been the end of my university career and possibly my future.”
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