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by KRM Research Staff

It’s quite troubling that in the heart of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an international incident involving cannabis continues to fester without signs of resolution. Brittney Griner, star professional basketball player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested over a month ago at an airport in Moscow over alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her carry-on luggage.

Now being held in a detention facility, Griner’s initial hearing has been delayed until May 19th to give Russian prosecutors more time to build a case against her. U.S. officials are not allowed direct access to Griner in violation of international law, and many believe she is being held as potential leverage given the widespread condemnation by the West of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Cannabis is, of course, illegal in Russia both for medicinal and recreational uses. Other American travelers have been arrested and charged with drug trafficking in past incidents, to usually being released or pardoned at a later date for political gain. The consequences are real even if a traveler is coming from a country where possession has been decriminalized: the laws of the foreign country are the only applicable rules in an enforcement situation.

Russia is known for its strong anti-cannabis stance at the United Nations, where there is talk of reforming cannabis policy at the international level. It has also publicly condemned Canada for passing nationwide legalization. The charges against Griner could potentially lead to a 10-year prison sentence should Russian prosecutors choose to pursue a maximum penalty.

While acknowledging that Griner made a mistake, many members of Congress and U.S. government officials are on record urging the use of all available channels to pursue her release. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has assured Congress that the State Department is hard at work pursuing a solution and is in constant contact with Griner’s lawyers. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been vocal on social media. And U.S. representatives including Sheila Jackson Lee, Burgess Owens, Byron Donalds, and top Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus are all demanding her release. Frustrating as the situation is, some in the industry see a possible silver lining. It may increase the pressure on the Biden Administration to sign any cannabis reform legislation passed by Congress into law — if only to demonstrate a marked difference from Russia in the way the United States treats its citizens.

Image Credit: Lorie Shaull