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Brittney Griner Ensnared in Russia’s Other War … on Cannabis

The Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star has been jailed in Russia on a narcotics charge.

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Brittney Griner is seen in action playing for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 2019. Grainer has been detained in Russia since February on allegations she attempted to smuggle cannabis-oil vapes into the country. PHOTO CREDIT: LORIE SHAULL/WIKI COMMONS

Baskeball star Brittney Griner is currently being jailed in Russia for cannabis possession, according to news reports. Russian customs agents arrested the seven-time WNBA all-star on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport, just days before Russia launched its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Russia’s troop buildup in the weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine prompted the U.S. State Department to warn Americans not to travel Russia and urged U.S. nationals in Russia to leave the country if possible. The U.S. government expressed concern that Americans in Russia might become political targets amidst the rising tension between Moscow and Washington.

Unfortunately, it appears that Griner may now be just such a target of Russian hostility towards Ukraine’s political allies. Like many WNBA players, Griner has played for overseas professional clubs during her primary league’s offseason. She has played for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of China’s WCBA and since 2015 for UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League and Euroleague, leading the latter team to multiple league titles.

The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center had her luggage searched upon arrival in Moscow following a flight from New York. Narcotics-sniffing dogs reacted to “the possible presence of narcotic substances” in her luggage, according to Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX). Griner is originally from Houston, TX.

Detained by Customs officials for vape cartridges
Russian customs officials say they found cannabis oil vape cartridges in her belongings. Cannabis is classified as an illegal narcotic in Russia.

The use of cannabis for either recreational or medicinal purposes is forbidden in Russia. Possession of up to 6 grams of cannabis is an administrative offense, punishable by a fine or detention of 15 days.

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Griner had been in Russian custody for 23 days as of Friday.

Possession of larger amounts of cannabis are punishable under the Russian Criminal Code and those convicted of non-authorized manufacturing, sale or delivery can receive an eight to 20-year prison sentence. Griner could be facing 10 years in Russian prison for her alleged personal possession of vapes, according to some sources but there has been no official verification of this by U.S. or Russian government agencies.

Griner’s decision to fulfill her contractual obligations to UMMC Ekaterinburg has proven to be disastrous, but it’s not difficult to understand her reasoning, even during a time of such political turbulence. Playing basketball overseas during the offseason lets the women of the WNBA earn something closer to the salaries of their male NBA counterparts. WNBA players’ salaries are capped at around $228,000. Players can earn four to five times that by playing in Europe.

Standing 6’9”, Griner was the No. 1 high school women’s basketball player in the U.S. before playing for Baylor in Waco,TX. She led the Bears to a national championship in 2012. Griner has twice earned Olympic gold medals with the United States women’s basketball team.

Brad Cheng is the digital editor of Global Cannabis Times, produced by SmartWork Media. Brad's journalism career spans working as an editor for PR Newswire, The Nation and The Santa Barbara News Press, and as Managing Editor of The Katy Courier, and publisher of Now This in Princeton. His career as a screenwriter took him into entertainment advertising, writing major film campaigns for studios and for HBO.

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