White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the ongoing detention of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has the full attention of President Biden.
“It has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team. And, we are actively working to find a resolution to this case and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home,” Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One as Biden is traveling to Spain for a NATO meeting.
Sullivan said that he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both spoken with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, convey that we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney must be going through.”
Sullivan reiterated to reporters that Griner was “wrongfully” and “unjustly” detained and that the White House is working for her release but would not go into details, according to The Hill.
Griner’s appearance in a Russian court Monday was the first time the two-time Olympic gold medal winner has been seen publicly, with the exception of her booking photo. Arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport for allegedly having cannabis oil in her suitcase, Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Last week a Putin spokesperson said Griner was not a hostage but had broken Russian law.
Is A Deal In The Works?
Numerous organizations and individuals have called on Biden to broker a deal with Russia for Griner’s release like the one that brought home US Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Some believe that Moscow is using Griner to gain leverage for that very reason.
“This may sound counterintuitive, but the trial is a crucial part of the process. The Russians have to keep pretending that this is a legitimate arrest. There is no reason to believe that the charges are legitimate or that her trial will be fair. But if and when she’s convicted, the Russians will have made clear their credible alternative to a deal to bring her home,” Dr. Danielle Gilbert, assistant professor of military and strategic studies at the US Air Force Academy, told ESPN.
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Returning to world travel and current events has recently brought cannabis travel back into the spotlight. People are traveling again despite ongoing COVID-19 worries and increasing Moneypox cases.
At the same time, the 9-year sentence of WNBA star Brittney Griner in a Russian court for two cannabis cartridges sparked outrage and worries about traveling with pot.
Griner’s case closely resembles Marc Fogel’s, who was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison in June. Fogel was found in possession of less than one ounce of medical cannabis at a Russian airport. He claimed to be unaware that medical cannabis was illegal in the country.
No matter the person or country, it’s wise to be aware of the local cannabis laws and the nation’s approach to policing, even as cannabis acceptance grows.
The World Warming On Weed
A September 2021 global cannabis growth report released by New Frontier Data found that 70 countries have legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form.
In North America, Canada has approved adult use, the United States has state-by-state legality and Mexico’s Supreme Court legalized cannabis, but a marketplace hasn’t been established. Meanwhile, the Caribbean is starting to see its first signs of access to medical reform.
South America has seen a wave of reform, with various nations allowing low- or high-potency medical access. Several countries in central and northern South America and Central America prohibit cannabis in all forms.
Africa remains largely prohibitive of cannabis. However, a handful of nations have legalized low-THC medical access. Like Mexico, South Africa’s court legalized cannabis, but a marketplace has not been established.
Most of Oceania remains opposed to cannabis in all forms. However, a few nations and US island territories have taken action on medical or adult use. Australia and New Zealand have medical cannabis laws, with the latter losing a narrow adult use ballot initiative in 2020.
Asia and Eurasia collectively remain the strictest block of land on cannabis. So far, only a few southern counties and South Korea have legalized low-THC medical use.
Countries like India allow exceptions, such as allowing the consumption of cannabis leaves for the traditional edible bhang. Other parts of the world, including Jamaica and Pakistan, have legalized or tolerate cannabis among various religious and tribal groups.
The Worst Nations To Get Caught With Pot
The topic is a bit more nuanced than it may seem at first glance. Depending on the criteria, a person can pinpoint various nations as the best and worst for pot possession.
Global possession laws vary, as do opinions on the best and worst places to get nabbed.
In Iran, offenders can be lashed or face a death sentence depending on the kilograms. Contrasting reports in recent years have claimed the nation has removed the death penalty for cannabis, while others claim executions have continued.
Like Iran, several nations, including Singapore and Saudi Arabia, use lashings as punishment. Malaysia, North Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Taiwan and other regional nations are also reported to execute offenders.
Death and long sentences aren’t the only parameters worth considering. Even short stints in harsh prisons can result in severe punishment.
Depending on the nation and facility, a person may be exposed to high levels of violence, overcrowding, hunger and other adverse health risks. Some court systems are so backed up that people can be detained pretrial for years while awaiting their day in court.
The Best Countries To Get Caught With Pot?
Nowhere is the honest answer. But if push came to shove, there are nations with friendlier regulations and prisons for cannabis possession offenses.
The best place to get popped is in a legalized or decriminalized nation where people can avoid prosecution, save for a possible fine. Uruguay and Canada, the two countries to legalize adult use, top the list.
Countries or parts of countries have taken measures to decriminalize the plant. As of August 5, 2022, the following have decriminalized or allowed possession through similar legislation:
Antigua and Barbuda
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Several additional nations are reported to ban the plant but don’t enforce the law. In rarer cases, autonomous zones, like Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark, are allowed to sell, possess and consume cannabis.
What About The United States?
The United States presents an interesting state-by-state approach to cannabis laws and sentencing.
As many noted in recent years, the growing legal status of the plant appears to conflict with America’s ongoing imprisonment of individuals for cannabis offenses.
It is estimated that over 40,000 individuals are in state or federal prison for cannabis-related charges and that people continue to be arrested on new cases. Others have suggested the figure is closer to 31,000 as arrests decline in recent years.
The WNBA star can appeal, but a prisoner swap now appears to be her best shot at freedom
A Moscow court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9½-years in prison Thursday (August 4). Griner pleaded guilty last month, hoping for leniency in sentencing on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
“I understand everything that’s being said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty,” Griner told the judge through an interpreter. “I had no intent to break any Russian laws,” she added.
The US Olympian was distraught as she apologized to the court and insisted she made “an honest mistake” while packing in haste. ESPN reports that Griner “reacted to the sentence with little emotion, listening to the verdict with a blank stare on her face.”
Griner also apologized to her teammates, fans and the entire city of Ekaterinburg, where she was traveling to play for the summer.
“I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population,” she said. “I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”
How we got here
Officials at Moscow’s Sheremtyevo airport reportedly found cannabis oil cartridges in Griner’s luggage back on February 17. She was entering the country to play for a Russian pro league, which she has participated in since 2014 during the WNBA offseason.
Griner’s trial has made political waves thanks to the tension between Russia and the US after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, exactly a week after Griner’s arrest.
Griner acknowledged the politics at play in her case, saying: “I know that everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom.”
JudgeAnna Sotnikova only took a few hours to deliberate the verdict after hearing the evidence and Griner’s final plea for mercy. Griner was also sentenced to pay 1 million rubles ($16,590) as a fine for the violation.
Griner has the right to appeal, but experts say a prisoner trade is now the most likely outcome. Russian officials have said that Russian law forbids the country from considering a deal until after sentencing.
How to help cannabis prisoners