Tag: russia

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Brittney Griner Is Finally Free

International basketball superstar Brittney Griner is finally free and officially home in the United States after a ten month long saga in Russia. Back in February Brittney Griner, who plays basketball professionally in the United States and Russia, was arrested at a Moscow airport for allegedly possessing a personal amount of cannabis oil in one or more vape pen cartridges.

While Griner eventually pled guilty to the allegations, it’s still unclear if she was ever actually in possession of anything. Many legal observers have pointed out that 99% of criminal cases in Russia end in a conviction, and that by pleading guilty to the allegations it allowed negotiations between the United States (where Griner is a citizen) to formally begin.

Had Griner pled ‘not guilty,’ the case could have drug on forever and prevented any real chance of her seeing her home country ever again. With that in mind, an admission of guilt could have been a procedural strategy that was recommended to Griner by her legal counsel versus serving as actual proof that she was truly guilty of what she was accused of.

Regardless, even if Griner was actually in possession of one or more vape pen cartridges, her receiving even one day in jail would have been an inhumane injustice, let alone the ten years of hard labor in a Russian prison that she was originally sentenced to, or the ten months of incarceration that she ultimately served.

Thankfully, Griner is now home with her family and friends and can start the process of trying to regain her life, although I think it’s a safe assumption that there will be lingering trauma that she will have to deal with forever. I will obviously never know what Griner went through, but she has my utmost sympathy for many, many reasons.

Griner may be free from the Russian criminal ‘justice’ system now, however, she is certainly not free from stigma, as is clearly on display on social media right now. The announcement of the deal being completed to secure her release instantly yielded a robust debate about a number of things, including and especially domestic cannabis policy at the federal level in the United States.

Before I touch on the U.S. cannabis policy component of the debate that is currently raging online, I will point out that two popular talking points on this matter do not carry any water with me. The first is that, ‘Griner violated the law, so she got what she deserved.’ I will never, ever understand how someone can root for cannabis prohibition and the harms it causes to a person.

Cannabis prohibition is wrong, and subjecting people to it is unjust. That is true whether it’s in Russia or anywhere else. What happened to Griner is not a testament to her doing something wrong – it is a testament to how harmful Russia’s cannabis policies are.

The second talking point is something along the lines of, ‘Why not this person or that person? Why only a famous athlete?’ As I understand it based on extensive reporting, there was only one deal on the table to consider, and it was Brittney Griner for the Russian arms dealer that she was traded for. Unfortunately, there was no other offer at all for anyone else, and that renders this talking point completely moot, even though the talking point remains popular on social media.

A valid component of the debate is that domestic cannabis policy in the United States at the federal level is terrible. Just as Griner should not have been incarcerated for cannabis in Russia, so too should no one be incarcerated in the United States for cannabis-only offenses.

Brittney Griner’s return home is absolutely worthy of celebration, just as continuing to work to end the plight of cannabis prisoners within the U.S. is absolutely worthy of every ounce of effort that people can provide. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Brittney Griner, russia

gavel law courtroom judge jury conviction appeal

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

prison jail

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 leaf

Cannabis Prohibition Is An Inhumane Governing Policy Everywhere That It Exists

Various arguments and talking points are offered up by cannabis prohibitions to ‘justify’ keeping cannabis prohibition policies in place, however, none of them outweigh the harms of cannabis prohibition. With news surfacing this week regarding WNBA star Brittney Griner’s lengthy prison sentence in Russia related to alleged possession of a cannabis vape cartridge, many cannabis prohibition talking points are being offered up to ‘justify’ what has happened to Griner. None of those talking points are valid and certainly do not in any manner outweigh the inhumane treatment that Griner has endured and will continue to endure until this matter is finally and sufficiently remedied.

When someone makes the claim that ‘Brittney Griner should have known that she was breaking the law,’ they are basing their stance on the inhumane premise that for whatever reason it’s OK to punish people for cannabis-only acts. In Griner’s case, she was allegedly in possession of one semi-used vape pen cartridge from what I understand and is now going to serve the better part of a decade in prison in Russia pending some type of successful, meaningful help from the United States government. What Griner is enduring right now is clearly cruel and unusual punishment, and it’s shameful that cannabis prohibitionists are using the case to further their own harmful agendas.

The Brittney Griner Case Summarized

For those that have not followed the case, WNBA legend and Olympic champion Brittney Griner was first arrested in Russia back in February, roughly one week prior to Russia invading Ukraine. News of the arrest did not surface until weeks later.

Initially, the United States government was very quiet about how it would approach the case, with people in Griner’s network (fellow players, family members, friends, etc.) making public comments that they were urged to not speak out about the case. Eventually, the Biden administration ramped up efforts to intervene in Griner’s case and applied a similar status (wrongfully detained) to Griner’s case that it already had applied to other cases in which U.S. citizens were subjected to Russia’s criminal justice system.

Ultimately, Griner pled guilty to the charges, however, that does not actually mean that she was guilty of what she was being accused of. For starters, Griner stated in court that, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said in English, which was then translated to Russian for the court proceedings, according to Reuters. “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”

Legal scholars pointed out that a guilty plea in Russia is a sound legal strategy being that roughly 99% of cases result in a guilty verdict in Russia and that pleading guilty is necessary in order to start the prisoner swap process, which is likely the only way that Griner will ever make it back to United States soil.

“Traditionally, the best defense is to admit your guilt and hope you get a lesser sentence,” Willam Pomeranz, the acting director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington and an expert on Russian law, told ESPN. “There’s not a lot of examples of people raising strong defenses and getting acquitted.”

Brittney Griner Is A Victim Of Prohibition, Politics, And Systemic Inequity

As expected, many people are weighing in on Griner’s 9-year prison sentence and aspects of her case now that the guilty verdict was officially rendered. Some cannabis community members are pointing to Griner’s case and then pivoting to talking points regarding Joe Biden’s unwillingness to free cannabis prisoners in the U.S. Others are pointing to a recent arrest of an NBA player in Texas and asking the logical question of why isn’t that case receiving more attention?

While all of those questions are valid, in many cases the points being made by cannabis supporters miss the main point that prohibition is wrong, it is always wrong, and prohibition is to blame in Griner’s case, Iman Shumpert’s case, as well as every other case in which someone is penalized due to cannabis-only offenses.

Griner’s case is getting significant attention because of additional compounding factors involved, not the least of which are the timing of her arrest leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the pay inequity issues in Griner’s home country that had her going to Russia in the first place. It’s widely reported that Griner was in Russia at the time of her arrest, however, her being a perennial basketball superstar in Russia’s professional women’s basketball league and being compensated over 4 times as much in Russia compared to in the United States is far less reported.

Brittney Griner was traveling to Russia for work and assuming that it was actually her vape cartridge(s), she was taking her meds with her on her work trip. Yes, those meds are illegal in Russia, but that doesn’t make Russia’s policy right. Unfortunately, Griner is now a political prisoner in Russia, and the only realistic way that she will ever be released is via a prisoner swap. The Biden administration has reportedly been in negotiations with Russia, however, the negotiations have failed to yield results so far.

The Biden administration needs to do everything that it can to free Brittney Griner, as well as do everything that it can to free cannabis prisoners in the United States, and those two things are not mutually exclusive and are simultaneously important. Furthermore, everyone everywhere needs to fight for sensible cannabis policies so that no one is ever locked up for cannabis in the first place.

brittany griner, russia

court decision hearing gavel

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

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

cannabis plant bud flower

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Criticizes Legalization In Other Countries

Russia’s deputy foreign minister came out swinging this week against cannabis legalization in the Western Hemisphere:

This is not the first time that Russia’s government has been critical of cannabis legalization in other countries, specifically when it comes to Canada. When Canada announced plans to legalize cannabis for adult use nationally, Russia was quick to condemn the move.

In the summer of 2018 Moscow issued a stern warning to Canada regarding looming cannabis legalization at the time, stating that Canada’s new policy meant it had “deliberately decided to breach international law.” Canada legalized cannabis in October 2018.

“We expect Canada’s partners in the G7 to respond to its ‘high-handedness’ because this alliance has repeatedly declared its adherence to the domination of international law in relations between states,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement at the time.

The comments out of Russia come in the midst of not only the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine but also as WNBA star Brittney Griner remains in custody in Russia while facing serious cannabis-related charges.

Griner, a United States citizen and professional women’s basketball star, was arrested at an airport in Russia after allegedly being found in possession of cannabis vape pen cartridges. Griner is looking at a potential decade in prison in Russia as a result, which serves as a grim reminder of how harmful Russia’s cannabis policies are.


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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