In February 2022, Brittney Griner, a leading American basketball player for the Women’sNational Basketball Association (WNBA), was detained in Russia after a cannabis oil vaporizer was found in her luggage while she was traveling there for work. Following several months of imprisonment, Griner was sentenced to more than 9 years in prison for "attempting to smuggle narcotics into Russia.” Although the US State Department classified Griner’s case as a wrongful detention in April 2022, criticism has mounted about the lack of urgency on the part of the federal government to ensure consistent communication with Griner about the status of their efforts to ensure her release. Griner reports not having remembered packing the cannabis cartridges but has testified and received support from her legal team in the defense that she uses cannabis for medicinal reasons. Griner has a formal recommendation for cannabis use from a physician in a cannabis-legal U.S. state for pain management related to injuries sustained during her basketball career.
The importance of ensuring Griner’s safety and immediate release extends across multiple justice-centered classifications. Here, we support her rights to bodily integrity and the choice of cannabis use for pain management as a health justice issue. But this case is also reflective of a potentially higher priority still related to this particular issue of health justice and drug policy, which is the assurance of Griner’s safety due to her intersectional identity as a Black lesbian woman. Black, Brown, indigenous, immigrant/refugee, and non-English speaking communities have been most severely impacted by the devastation of the “War on Drugs” which continues to affect individuals, communities, and generations. Queer women like Griner are also more often subject to both physical and social violence- nationally and globally- as a result of homophobia and sexism. There is a long history of the exploitation of professional athletes, who are often people of color whose talent and labor are used for the mass entertainment of the general population without additional assurance for their long-term physical and psychological safety. And so the effort to ensure Griner’s safety and release is a priority of health, racial, and social justice.
The calamitous irony, in this case, is that Russia is addressing the importation of cannabis for individual and medicinal use as a significant criminal offense. This differs little from the United States where we continue to irrationally classify cannabis as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. In some U.S. states, individuals are still incarcerated for several year sentences following the conviction of cannabis-related offenses, with ~40,000 people still incarcerated as of 2020. The Schedule I classification categorizes cannabis federally as having no medicinal uses and a high potential for “abuse”/addiction, leading to risk for felony penalization and long-term incarceration for its use, production, and distribution- even when used legally by state law. It also leads to severe and unnecessary restrictions on the ability to study the cannabis plant. This is true even though cannabis entrepreneurs in the US - the vast majority of whom do not belong to the communities most historically and clearly affected by the “War on Drugs”- are now profiting financially and significantly by engaging in these same behaviors. While evidence continues to grow about the various medicinal, psychosocial, and entheogenic benefits of cannabis use and states continue to legalize cannabis for both adult and medicinal use, this federal classification (in the U.S., Russia, and most countries throughout the world) places people-especially people of color- in danger of having their lives irrevocably and negatively impacted by the use of a substance that has virtually no risk of death and significant potential for various health benefits, especially with educated and regulated use.
Due to the strong evidence documented in both peer-reviewed literature, hundreds of thousands of anecdotal accounts, and years of evidence supporting the medicinal, psychosocial, and entheogenic uses for cannabis, DFCR supports the immediate release of Brittney Griner from detention in Russia and the high prioritization of coordination for her release by the federal government of the United States.
Please sign the petition to support the swift and safe return of Brittney Griner to the United States
Watch now if you missed DFCR's webinar: "Brittney Griner’s Imprisonment in the Context of Cannabis Prohibition in the US & Russia"
Here are some highlights from the webinar:
Dr. Kogan: "Griner represents a successful black woman, raised in an urban environment, openly lesbian, identifying as “she” but presenting as masculine, and fully embracing her identity. For the Russian elite, this represents something that cannot be happening in their land."
Dr. Oga: "I feel like being quiet is over. We’ve tried that already. The expectation has been that someone is going to come and save us if we just wait and stay quiet. I don’t think that works. I don’t think it’s ever going to work. My instinct is what hurts is silence."
Isabelle Kirshner: "The irony is that there has been this uproar about how Brittney Griner has been treated under these terrible Russian laws, charged with the transportation of drugs and sentenced to ten years in prison. Yet, however outrageous this sounds, the truth is that in some states in the U.S. she could be facing the same thing."
Dr. Adinoff: "Why is Griner incarcerated in Russia? Why are Olympic athletes testing positive for cannabis not being allowed to compete? Why are individuals testing positive for cannabis not being allowed to work? It is anti-science, it is not in the interest of public health, and there is no rationale from a medical perspective. But this is part of a 100-year effort to demonize and racialize cannabis."
Ms. Griner lost her appeal for her conviction. She has been sent to a prison camp with a dreadful reputation to begin her 9 year sentence.