Brittney Griner Is Finally Coming Home After Her Russian Conviction Over Weed Vapes
US officials swapped the Olympian and WNBA star in exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer.
Published on December 8, 2022

Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for allegedly smuggling cannabis vape cartridges into Russia, is coming home.

On Thursday, White House officials confirmed Griner would be released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who has been held in US prison for 12 years, the Guardian reported.

Russian customs agents apprehended Griner at a Moscow airport back in February. According to the Russian authorities, Griner was transporting cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage. 

During Griner’s trial in July, she argued that she possessed the cannabis oil cartridges for medical reasons, and that she previously received a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis in the US. 

Russia, however, is a fascist state, and cannabis is still outlawed there. Her July trial resulted in a swift conviction, and she was sent to 9 years hard labor at a Russian prison camp. 

“Brittney Griner’s nine-plus year sentence is regarded as harsh and extreme by Russian legal standards,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said in October after her appeal was denied. “Today’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, appeal outcome further validates the fact that she is being held hostage and is being used as a political pawn. Brittney Griner is being held by Russia simply because she is an American.”

Griner’s arrest came just as US-Russia tensions were coming to a head. Russia illegally invaded Ukraine in February, the same month as Griner’s arrest. Experts and analysts at the time advised all Americans to leave Russia due to concerns that Russian authorities would unfairly target, detain, and convict US citizens for political and military leverage.

While cannabis activists, as well as Griner’s family, friends, and fans are celebrating her high-profile prison swap, some bootlickers have criticized the move. Griner gained notoriety among America’s homegrown fascists after she began kneeling at WNBA games to protest police brutality in the US. 

The Biden Administration has also been criticized for prioritizing Griner’s release over the release of Paul Whelan. The Canada-born Whelan is a former corporate security executive and US Marine who was convicted in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges. He was sentenced to 16 years.

Whelan’s family and the US government say the espionage charges against Whelan are “baseless,” the Guardian reported.

In July, White House officials considered an offer to swap both Griner and Whelan in exchange for Viktor Bout. Whelan’s brother, David, issued a statement on Thursday commending the Biden Administration for arranging Griner’s release, though he was disappointed his brother is still in Russian prison.

“I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media,” David Whelan said, according to the Guardian. “Our parents … will surely speak to him soon.”

Meanwhile, back home in the US, roughly 40,000 Americans are still in prison on marijuana charges. Although Biden recently announced he would pardon all federal prisoners for “low-level” marijuana offenses, no one has actually yet been freed under Biden’s pardons

Despite the Democratic Party committing itself to decriminalizing cannabis nationwide, Biden has ignored pushing federal weed legalization because he’s supposedly “too busy” doing other stuff. Meanwhile, he has urged Americans to show compassion for drug abusers such as his son Hunter Biden as thousands of other Americans rot in prison under draconian drug laws he authored and sponsored in the 1990s.  

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MERRY JANE is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to elevating the discussion around cannabis culture.
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