The Biden Administration, Federal Cannabis Legalization, and the Geopolitics of Brittney Griner

This story originally appeared on Benzinga

As the White House continues to insist Brittney Griner is being “wrongfully detained” even after she pleaded guilty to entering a Moscow airport on February 17 with cannabis oil in her suitcase, the Biden administration hangs on tightly to its anti-legalization stance here in the U.S., which has not gone unnoticed by Russia nor most likely by millions of Americans who will soon vote in the midterms.


That point was driven home when a Russian foreign ministry official noted that cannabis possession was “punishable in some U.S. states,” hence undermining Griner’s case while over-exposing U.S. hypocrisy.

RELATED: Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty in Russia, Faces Up to 10 Years in Prison For Vape Cartridge

Shining a light on U.S. cannabis policy

“Ironically – and despite the public’s overwhelming support for an end to cannabis criminalization – the draconian Russian laws that led to Griner’s detention are similar to our own. After all, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug in the United States. This means that under federal drug trafficking guidelines, any U.S. citizen could face a jail sentence for flying with hash oil,” wrote Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel of the Last Prisoner Project in USA Today. “That’s not a hypothetical situation. More than 100,000 Americans languish in pretrial detention on drug charges. And, like Griner in Russia, non-U.S. citizens are regularly prosecuted under our harsh drug laws for crossing our border with cannabis.”

Speaking of draconian laws, under the Russian legal system, the conviction rate is over 97 percent.

Then there’s this: “We have to remember that Brittney is being detained by a country that is actively hostile towards the U.S., but has also invaded Ukraine. And we’re one of Ukraine’s biggest military and financial supporters. You cannot take it out of that context,” said Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania who researches Black experiences in Russia and Ukraine.

RELATED: When Will the Biden Administration Finally Move on Cannabis Reform?

What might happen

That being the case, one wonders what the White House has in mind. Or Russia for that matter. The most popular scenario being bandied about at this precarious geopolitical moment has to do with a prisoner swap.

The Kremlin, or so goes the chatter, has shown interest in springing Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer also known as the “Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison. Even if this were to be the case, many experts have said the process can drag on for years.

Griner’s trial resumes on July 14.

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