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Tag: Brittney Griner

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Will Brittney Griner Get A Fair Appeal To Her Cannabis Possession Conviction?

Back in February of this year international basketball superstar Brittney Griner was arrested at an airport in Russia for cannabis possession. The arrest apparently involved a personal amount of vape pen cartridges that allegedly contained cannabis oil. Ultimately, Brittney Griner would plead guilty to the allegations, although many have speculated that the guilty plea was merely a procedural thing to start the process of a possible prisoner swap, as that can only occur after a conviction is rendered. Griner has appealed the sentence related to the conviction, and a Russian court has set a date for the 25th of this month for the appeal.

When it comes to initial criminal court cases Russia has a 99% conviction rate, which speaks for itself regarding the level of fairness, or lack thereof, in Russia’s court system. That is something that legal experts have pointed to as likely another reason why Griner pled guilty and seemed to throw herself at the mercy of the court, as the conviction was basically a forgone conclusion, and that is even further compounded by the political factors involved with Griner’s case. All of that brings into question what level of fairness Griner will receive during the appeal process.

Why Appeal A Conviction In A Corrupt System?

It is very much worth noting that just because a court in Russia set a date for the appeal proceeding to begin that does not mean that it will automatically occur. As evidence of that, consider how many times Griner’s initial court proceedings were delayed. The United States and Russia are currently in negotiations to include Griner in some type of prisoner swap, and it’s likely a safe bet that she will unfortunately continue to be used as a political pawn, as the rising tensions between the two countries doesn’t appear to be cooling off any time soon.

With that in mind, it seems unfathomable that a court in Russia would do anything to intervene in the situation, including reducing Griner’s nine year sentence. What is more likely to occur, in my opinion, is that her case will continue to be used as political theater, and that any number of delays and/or extensions will occur to maximize the political usefulness of that theater. Don’t get me wrong, I would obviously love to see Griner win her appeal outright and be able to come home immediately, however, that doesn’t seem to be realistic based on everything involved. Griner appealed her lower court decision presumably because she had no choice but to do so, as the alternative is to accept an inhumane conviction and related nine year sentence.

The Political Solution

Unfortunately, the odds of Brittney Griner receiving justice via Russia’s court system are not strong. In fact, they are dismal at best. Realistically, the only way that Griner will be able to come home short of serving her entire prison sentence in Russia is via a prisoner swap, and the burden of succeeding at that falls entirely on the leaders of the United States and Russia. Reports have surfaced of offers being made and rejected, however, what it will take to get a deal completed seems to be uncertain at this time.

The effort to free Griner has followed a precarious path, with the Biden administration initially seeming to be unwilling to get involved and reportedly even told Griner’s family and fellow members of the WNBA to not speak publicly about the issue for fear that ‘it may make Griner a political pawn.’ The posture from the Biden administration has since changed, both in Griner’s specific cannabis case as well as in potentially thousands of domestic cannabis possession cases via a recent mass pardon issued by President Biden. Yet, the Biden administration only represents half of the parties involved in a prisoner swap, and with the other half of the equation currently in the midst of war against an ally of the U.S., there’s no telling how long it could take, and also what it will take, before Griner is finally free.

biden, Brittney Griner, russia

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Brittney Griner Sentenced To Over 9 Years Hard Labour For Cannabis Possession In Russia

The WNBA star, arrested at the airport in February with less than a gram of cannabis oil, is bringing global attention to the issue of continued cannabis criminalization

Just one week before Russia invaded Ukraine, Brittney Griner landed in Russia with the expectation of playing her next off-season. That hope was dashed almost as soon as she landed. Officials found a few vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. For this “crime” she was promptly arrested. Her subsequent detention and now conviction and sentencing has made global headlines.

Griner is a medical cannabis user, despite the fact that it is still banned by the WNBA and has been certified medically as such in her home state of Arizona since 2013. She also testified in court that she had packed the vape cartridges by accident before she left the US and did not realize they were in her luggage.

A Global Call for Decriminalization

As a local Arizona man buys 6,500 Mercury tickets to support Griner and the WNBA held a moment of silence for her on Sunday, both the US State Department and the Biden White House are working to obtain her release. This, despite the fact that cannabis use is still federally illegal in the United States, where thousands of people remain in jail because of their own cannabis use and possession.

While it appears that she was deliberately targeted for political purposes that have nothing to do with cannabis reform by the Russian government, and her case was certainly mishandled, even under Russian law, it is clear that Griner’s plight has just added fuel to the fire for the cannabis legalization cause globally.

In Germany, where recreational legalization is now slated to occur sometime in the next 24 months, the German press has covered the case with interest. It is clear, at least aus Deutschland that this is a global example of what happens when patients are unjustly prosecuted, although of course, German patients still face criminal charges when caught with “undocumented” cannabis.

What Happens Next?

It is very likely, given the increasing din domestically, that the White House will be on the hot seat until Griner is returned home. However, this incident is, tragically, not likely to move either the Senate or the White House to implement cannabis reform any time soon – even after the U.S. midterm elections which occur in the fall.

As such, Griner becomes “just” the next, if globally high-profile victim of a Drug War which has still not ended, no matter how much there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel in several countries.

Brittney Griner, russia

cannabis plant

The Bleeding Edge Of International Cannabis Reform Is Being Forged By Women

Women are on the front lines of the war to legalize cannabis – and paying a heavy price

There are two high-profile cannabis cases right now that are making global headlines. Both of them involve women who have been caught with cannabis – and face years if not decades in prison.

In Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner has just pled guilty to drug charges for bringing about a gram of liquid cannabis in her luggage as she embarked on what she thought would be a lucrative off-season abroad.

Just days before this, last week, an Israeli woman was sentenced to life imprisonment rather than the death sentence for drug possession (including cannabis) in the United Arab Emirates.

Women may not be represented equally in the industry at the executive level yet, but they are increasingly on the front end of the drug war as global laws change. Not to mention being subjected to heavy penalties.

Women Are “Half the Battle”

In North America, women are certainly more present in the industry than just about anywhere else – and from every level – from working in the industry itself to proudly identifying as consumers (which is, if one remembers just a few years ago, a real and welcome change.)

Indeed, it speaks volumes that a high-profile female American user would be targeted in Russia in what many observers are calling a bold power play to obtain an early release for Russians held in the US and for far worse “crimes.” Russian officials have even been quoted as saying that they have done nothing differently than some U.S. states still can (even though hemp is now federally legal).

Regardless, the entire scenario puts yet more of a spotlight on the political deadlock on federal legalization in the US – not to mention the state of reform in Russia.

Cannabis reform is also lagging throughout the Arab world. The UAE, like most Arabic countries, has not reformed its cannabis laws – much – although life in prison is preferable to the death penalty.

Regardless, this case too highlights the draconian penalties that still exist in some parts of the world for a plant with increasingly noted healing properties. Not to mention that such laws are being applied without regard to gender.

Brittney Griner

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Cannabis Related Political Prisoner? The Brittney Griner Case Goes To Court

The two-time Gold Medalist faces up to 10 years in prison for possession of less than 1 gram of cannabis. Critics are crying foul – calling this a trumped-up political case to swap prisoners

The cold war between the US and Russia may be hotter than it has been in decades over the Ukraine war. However, a cannabis-related case may be where one of the forces of détente and legalization shows what has changed in the world and what has not.

For those who have not been following the case, American sports star Brittney Griner arrived in Russia this February to play in the country during the American off-season. This is a common practice for many American sports players who can sometimes make more money abroad than they can at home.

Upon her arrival, she was arrested for possession.

Calling On the Biden White House

Griner’s wife has now made the charge that US officials, who did not reveal the case to the public until the beginning of March, have done very little to help her imprisoned spouse. In an interview with CNN, Cherelle Griner said that so far, the actions of American authorities had been insufficient. She also said she hoped to meet with Joe Biden because he has the power to repatriate her wife.

So far, Griner has no complaints about how she has been treated.

Prisoner exchanges for this type of crime and of course someone of this stature, are not uncommon between the two countries.

The great irony of course is that the Biden White House is struggling with its own cannabis policies right now, not to mention presiding over a country on the verge of recreational reform – if it can ever pass the senate.

The Great Criminal Injustices of the 2020s

It may well be, looking back at this period of time with a twenty to thirty-year rear-view mirror, that the continued criminalization and incarceration of cannabis users even as large sections of the world are now moving to at least medical cannabis reform, will be one of the worst injustices of this period of time.

It is of course not just Russia which is still threatening users with both criminal charges and jail time related to cannabis possession and use. Even in places like Germany, with recreational reform now pending in the legislature, over 185,000 individuals face criminal penalties for the same thing. In the US, cannabis-related arrests are clearly down, but too many people face the same issue.

The shadow from the War on Cannabis is long indeed.

Brittney Griner, russia

prison jail cell arrest

Effort To Free Brittney Griner Receives A Boost

The WNBA has officially started its 2022 season. Unfortunately, one of the league’s biggest superstars, Olympic champion Brittney Griner, will not be playing, at least not any time soon.

Brittney Griner was arrested and charged with cannabis offenses in Russia back in February and is facing as much as 10 years in prison. It took weeks for the news of her arrest to surface, and after the world became aware of her incarceration and what she was being charged with, the outcry from the United States government and the WNBA was limited.

As previously mentioned in our prior coverage, the United States government apparently told WNBA leadership and even WNBA players to not speak out about Griner’s incarceration.

The reasoning, if you want to call it that, was that the United States government did not want Griner to be seen as a high-profile target and used as a political pawn. For many cannabis observers, including myself, that made zero sense given that Brittney Griner is a professional basketball player in Russia in addition to playing professionally in the United States.

I don’t think that it’s a stretch to assume that the reason why she was arrested was specifically to use her as a political pawn. It also seemed that Brittney Griner’s situation was being used for prohibition politics in her home country being that the Biden administration was not trying to help her case anywhere near the level that it has helped with other cases involving U.S. citizens arrested in Russia.

Fortunately, the United States government finally made a designation that it should have been made months ago which will hopefully help Griner. Per the Associated Press:

The Biden administration has determined that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out, the State Department said Tuesday.

“The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” the department said.

Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Since then, U.S. officials had stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and said instead that their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.

Many cannabis observers, and rightfully so, have pointed out that the Biden administration has not done enough to free cannabis prisoners in the United States, and that he needs to free cannabis prisoners at home immediately.

I would argue that the two are not mutually exclusive. The Biden administration needs to free cannabis prisoners in the United States immediately, as he said he would do while on the campaign trail, and the Biden administration needs to do everything that it can to free Brittney Griner. Anything short of both is unacceptable.

Brittney Griner

prison jail

Why Isn’t The US Fighting Harder To Free Brittney Griner?

Brittney Griner is one of the most elite professional athletes on this planet. Below is just a sampling of her accomplishments as a professional basketball player:

  • Member of Team USA’s 2016 gold medal team during 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
  • Two-time gold medalist with Team USA at FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championships (2018, 2014)
  • Named the MVP of the gold medal game in 2018
  • Two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2014)
  • Six-time WNBA All-Star (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2013)
  • Two-Time All-WNBA First Team (2019, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Second Team (2018, 2017, 2015)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive First Team (2018, 2015, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive Second Team (2019, 2017, 2016)
  • Holds WNBA regular season records for blocks in a single game (11), blocks in a season (129, 2014), single-season blocks average (4.04, 2015) and career blocks average (2.9)

That is about as impressive of a professional basketball resume as you will find. Unfortunately, Brittney Griner is not playing basketball anywhere right now after being arrested and lodged in jail in Russia upon suspicion that she was in possession of cannabis vape pen cartridges at a Moscow airport.

Griner was originally arrested in mid-February, although her arrest didn’t start making international headlines until weeks later. Griner is looking at serious charges in Russia that carry a possible, if not likely, penalty of 10 years in prison.

How Is The U.S. Government Handling Griner’s Case?

As I previously blogged about, as of 25 days after Griner’s detention government officials in the United States indicated that they had no contact with the basketball superstar. While that appears to have changed since I last wrote about this case, the virtual lack of effort on the part of the United States seems to remain the same. They appear to be doing the bare minimum to help Griner. Per excerpts from recent coverage by the Associated Press:

As extraordinary as her circumstances are, the details surrounding Griner’s case remain a mystery as a crucial court date approaches next month. Russian prosecutors have offered little clarity and the U.S. government has made only measured statements. Griner’s legal team has declined to speak out about the case as it works behind the scenes.

In some cases, U.S. officials do speak out loudly when they’re convinced an American has been wrongly detained. But Griner’s case is barely two months old and officials have yet to make that determination. A State Department office that works to free American hostages and unjust detainees is not known to be involved.

That’s a more restrained posture than the Biden administration has taken with two other Americans jailed in Russia — Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges his family says are bogus, and Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran sentenced to nine years on charges that he assaulted a police officer in Moscow as he was being driven to a police station after a night of heavy drinking.

The State Department has pressed Russia for their release, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken raising their cases in a meeting last December with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In contrast to Griner’s case, it has publicly described both men as unjustly detained.

Cannabis Stigma On Full Display

One thing that government officials seem to be clinging to is the fact that Griner hasn’t signed a privacy rights waiver, and that somehow the lack of a signed waiver means that the U.S. can’t do more than they have. Another popular excuse being offered up by people that claim to have talked to government officials and/or WNBA leadership is that government and WNBA reps ‘do not want to bring attention to the case to help ensure that Griner isn’t used as a political pawn.’ Both of those talking points are ridiculous.

No, Griner has not signed a privacy rights waiver, which hinders some things that the government can do, but certainly not all things. The entire world knows that Griner is in a Russian jail because of allegations that she was caught with cannabis. She is an international sports legend.

It’s blatant gaslighting for the U.S. government to act as if being quiet about the case will prevent Russia from knowing how famous Brittney Griner is. Russia knows exactly who Griner is, if for any reason because Griner gets paid to play professional basketball in Russia (roughly 4 times the amount she gets paid to play in the U.S. by the way).

Per the AP coverage cited above, the United States has been very outspoken in the case of Trevor Reed, a man sentenced for allegedly fighting with law enforcement after a long night of drinking alcohol. Why is it that the U.S. can speak out about Mr. Reed’s case without it resulting in him being used as a political pawn, but not Griner? Why is Mr. Reed being expressly brought up and classified as being wrongfully accused, but the same isn’t true for Brittney Griner?

It’s glaringly obvious that because Griner’s case involves cannabis that it is being treated differently, and that is shameful.

Brittney Griner, russian

prison jail

What Is Being Done To Free Brittney Griner?

“Britney Griner: The ‘Tom Brady of women’s basketball’ has vanished”. That is what BBC World News tweeted on March 15th in regards to international basketball legend Brittney Griner being detained in Russia. At the time of the tweet little was known about Brittney Griner’s situation other than she was arrested at a Moscow airport and being charged with possessing cannabis vape pen cartridges.

Since that time, details have started to trickle in regarding the situation. Brittney Griner, who plays professional women’s basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was originally arrested on February 17th, with news of the arrest surfacing at the international level weeks later.

According to a ‘source close to Griner’ she is doing ‘OK’. Per ESPN:

The source close to Griner said that despite the inability of diplomats to visit Griner or other Americans in Russian custody, they have gotten frequent updates on her from her team of Russian attorneys.

“I wouldn’t say she’s ‘good,’ but she’s OK,” the source said.

A court in Moscow recently set a date of May 19th to start the process of reviewing Griner’s case (not an actual trial date), which came after the court granted an extension to Griner’s pre-trial detention originally proposed by Russian prosecutors.

How Great Is Brittney Griner At Basketball?

Brittney Griner is one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. Below is just a mere sampling of some of her accomplishments:

  • Member of Team USA’s 2016 gold medal team during 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
  • Two-time gold medalist with Team USA at FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championships (2018, 2014)
  • Named the MVP of the gold medal game in 2018
  • Two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2014)
  • Six-time WNBA All-Star (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2013)
  • Two-Time All-WNBA First Team (2019, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Second Team (2018, 2017, 2015)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive First Team (2018, 2015, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive Second Team (2019, 2017, 2016)
  • Holds WNBA regular season records for blocks in a single game (11), blocks in a season (129, 2014), single-season blocks average (4.04, 2015) and career blocks average (2.9)

Griner’s resume speaks for itself – she is an elite athlete, hence why BBC World News felt comfortable comparing her to another elite athlete by the name of Tom Brady. Unfortunately, Griner is not compensated at the same level as Tom Brady. Whereas Tom Brady made tens of millions of dollars last season in the NFL, Griner made $220,000 in the WNBA during the same season. Griner makes an additional $1 million during the WNBA offseason playing in Russia.

What Is The U.S. Government Doing To Help Free Griner?

The criminal justice system in Russia is not exactly known for being credible and fair. It is no secret that many prisoners are arrested and put in detention for political purposes in Russia, and given Brittney Griner’s fame and notoriety, many observers have floated the obvious theory that Griner was possibly arrested as some type of ploy by Russia to use her as political leverage in some manner.

According to BBC, today marks the 25th day of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, which puts the initial invasion just days after Griner was reportedly arrested. Is that just a coincidence? Or was it premeditated? Without proper due process, there’s no way to know for sure.

“There have been a lot of allegations of planting of substances on people, particularly on the part of human rights advocates,” says Peter Maggs, a law professor at the University of Illinois and an expert on Russia’s civil code according to CNN.

Making matters worse, the United States government has indicated that it has had no contact with Griner. Per the previously cited article by ESPN:

A State Department official issued a statement to ESPN on Thursday saying, “We insist the Russian government provide consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention, as Brittney Griner is.”

The statement marks a slight but significant change in the government’s tone when it comes to Griner. Up until now the government has deliberately kept a low profile with her case, hoping not to increase her profile to the point where she might become a valuable political asset to the Russian government. It generally has avoided commenting at all, and when Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about her at a news conference last week he gave a tepid statement that did not mention her by name.

Based on State Department guidance, Griner’s representatives have asked the WNBA, NBA, the media and Griner’s supporters generally to keep any attention to her case “on a low simmer,” as one source said.

Will Griner Be Released Pre-Trial?

Why is the United States government pursuing a flawed strategy of keeping attention to Griner’s case “on a low simmer?” Would that be the case if it was Tom Brady who was arrested? What if the case didn’t involve a substance that the United States government still prohibits? Would things still be “on a low simmer”?

The fact of the matter is that Russia is not going to give in to any demands made by the United States on anything right now, and that was true even before Russia invaded Ukraine. Furthermore, Brittney Griner is an international superstar. Not only is she one of the most legendary female athletes in the United States, she is an Olympic champion who is also a professional athlete in Russia.

Keeping things “on a low simmer” will not make Brittney Griner any more or less famous than she already is. Make no mistake about it – Russia’s government knows exactly who Brittney Griner is. The second she was arrested, Brittney Griner became a political prisoner even if the United States government doesn’t seem to want to treat the case that way.

Russia’s law dictates that prisoners can only be held for a year before facing trial, however, there are examples of that deadline being surpassed, including cases involving citizens of the United States. Short of an enormous amount of ongoing outcry by anyone and everyone, including and especially the WNBA and NBA, it’s quite possible that Griner could remain incarcerated indefinitely in Russia due to the cannabis charges.

Unfortunately, it’s that very thing that the United States government is specifically asking people not to do, which is shameful and no doubt based to some degree on the United States federal government’s long-standing opposition to cannabis and people who use it.

Brittney Griner, russia

moscow russia

Brittney Griner’s Arrest Highlights Harms Of Russia Cannabis Prohibition

Unless you have been living under a rock then you likely heard the news that WNBA star Brittney Griner was recently arrested for cannabis possession in Russia. According to ESPN, “Griner is being detained in Russia after customs officials said they found hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow…”

“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent with Wasserman Group, told ESPN via a statement Saturday. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

Some cannabis observers, including some long-time activists, were quick to place blame on Griner for traveling to Russia, allegedly with vape pen cartridges in her luggage. However, the real blame lands squarely on Russia’s inhumane cannabis policies.

Assuming that the allegations are true, Griner was likely traveling with an amount of cannabis vape pens that is legal in a number of states back in the U.S. If the pens contained hemp-derived CBD oil, then what Griner was caught with would have been legal nationwide in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Griner is now facing up to 10 years in prison, and given the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it’s very hard to speculate as to if/when she will be released and allowed to come home. Hopefully her freedom will not be used as a bargaining chip by Russia, although, it’s something that cannot be ruled out.

Many are calling on the Biden administration to do everything that it can to free Griner, and rightfully so. With that being said, Biden has scoffed in the past when asked to do the same for cannabis prisoners in the U.S., so I am personally not holding out a lot of hope for Biden to step up to try to free Griner.

Cannabis prohibition is harmful to people’s lives, including professional athletes. No one should ever be arrested for a plant that has been found to be exponentially safer than alcohol. Russia needs to free Griner immediately, as well as every other cannabis prisoner within its borders. Anything short of that is unacceptable.

Brittney Griner, russia

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