President Biden on Brittney Griner’s Sentence

On August 4, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden published a formal statement concerning the sentencing of U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner. Griner was just sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and fined one million rubles. We’ve written about Griner’s case before (here and here), but to summarize, she could be spending the next decade locked up in Russia for accidentally bringing cannabis vapes into the country. President Biden’s statement is short, so I will copy the full text below:

Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.  My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.

We all know that Griner’s harsh treatment has a lot to do with the United States’ support of Ukraine in its invasion by Russia. It seems unlikely that she would have received such a harsh sentence had this happened a year ago. But the fact remains that it’s still possible in Russia (and most of the world) to face a decade in prison for something anyone in most U.S. states can legally carry.

President Biden’s administration is working to broker a prisoner swap for Griner, so she may not serve her entire sentence in Russia. That’s by no means guaranteed, and Russia may get back a convicted arms dealer as a result.

We hope that President Biden can take what he’s learned in Griner’s case – that it is wrong to detain someone for cannabis possession – and focus more energy on making legalization happen here. As we have known for years, he has not been particularly fond of cannabis and not much has changed federally since he took office, despite all the promises.

Most of all, we hope that Griner will be quickly released and get to come home to the United States. What a travesty.