After nearly 10 months in Russian custody for allegedly “smuggling” a THC vape pen, WNBA player Brittney Griner has been released in a 1-for-1 prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.
President Biden announced her release Thursday morning, saying “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along,” per CNN.
Griner, a WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist who plays basketball in Russia in the US offseason to supplement her income, was detained at the Moscow airport in February when cannabis oil pens were found in her luggage. Cannabis in all forms is illegal in Russia, and Griner was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in August. Her appeal in October was denied, and Griner has spent the last few weeks in a Russian penal colony.
While we can rejoice that her wrongful conviction has finally been overturned and her nine-year sentence wiped, this traumatic experience will likely haunt her for the rest of her life.
It’s also ludicrous to conflate Griner’s crime to that of Blout, a middle-aged former Soviet officer and illegal arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to kill Americans and smuggling missiles to support terrorist organizations. His nickname was the “Merchant of Death.”
Griner is unfortunately not alone as a Black woman athlete facing disproportionate punishment for a cannabis-related offense. Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified from the Olympic trials last year for a positive cannabis test, despite cannabis having no performance-enhancing properties.
There’s also the hypocrisy that Biden would push so hard for Griner’s release, yet continue to detain hundreds of thousands of Americans per year on nonviolent cannabis charges.
We wish the Griners the best as they reunite and try to move past this nearly yearlong nightmare, and hope the Biden administration realizes that no American citizen should be locked up for weed.