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Russia Sentences Israeli-American Traveler to 7.5 Years in Prison for 9 Grams of Pot

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Today an Israeli woman caught with nine grams of marijuana (less than a third of an ounce) while catching a connecting flight in Moscow was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for drug smuggling. That’s 10 months for each gram.

Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old who is also a U.S. citizen, was arrested in April while returning to Israel after spending three months in India. A drug-sniffing dog at the Moscow airport alerted to her backpack, where security agents found her stash wrapped in plastic inside a toiletry bag.

Under Russian law, possessing less than six grams of marijuana is an administrative offense punishable by up to 15 days of detention and a 1,000-ruble fine. Acquiring six grams or more of marijuana without the intent to sell it is subject to criminal penalties, including up to three years in prison. But Issachar was charged with smuggling marijuana into Russia, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“This is a substantial and disproportionate punishment for a young Israeli with no criminal record, who arrived in Moscow with the intention of catching a connecting flight on her way home to Israel,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a press release. “Unfortunately, Russian authorities have not as yet heeded our requests to conduct the case appropriately in accordance to the circumstances of her arrest.​”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “requested a commuting of the sentence and an easing of the terms of Naama’s detention,” according to a statement from his office. “To our regret, the Russian prosecution has not yet accepted to these requests.” The office added that Issachar’s sentence “is disproportionate and does not fit the nature of the offense being attributed” to her.

The Times of Israel reports that “a senior Israeli official told Hebrew media that Russia offered several times in recent months to free Issachar if Israel agrees to release Aleksey Burkov, a Russian IT specialist who was arrested in Israel in 2016 at the request of Interpol.” Burkov “is wanted on embezzlement charges in the United States for a massive credit card scheme that saw him allegedly steal millions of dollars from American consumers.”

Issachar’s family told Channel 13 news she is being used as a “hostage” to secure Burkov’s release. “Until now we’ve been dealing with trying to prove there was not attempted drug smuggling,” they said, “but now we understand that this is a larger matter. Naama is being held as a hostage.”

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