Lifestyle, News, Politics

Another Professional Athlete Embraces Cannabis—But at a High Cost

March 30, 2022 08:00 am ET
Another Professional Athlete Embraces Cannabis—But at a High Cost

The recent arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia following the discovery of cannabis oil in her luggage has resparked the discussion about athletes and cannabis use—with an international twist. As the American athlete continues to be separated from her country and family with little word from her Russian captors, many Americans are ramping up their fight against unjust cannabis criminalization both at home and abroad.

American Athlete Facing 10 Years in Russian Prison for Vape

31-year-old Griner was detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service in late February. According to CBS, “The seven-time All-Star was detained in Russia on Feb. 17th for allegedly bringing hashish oil into Sheremetyevo International Airport.” On March 5, an official on Russian State TV said, “An expert determined that the liquid is a narcotic drug, cannabis oil. A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen for smuggling a significant amount of drugs.”

Griner was the number one overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. She also has a long list of accolades, such as leading the Phoenix Mercury to win the WNBA championship in 2014. She has won two Olympic gold medals, is a three-time Russian national league champion, has participated in two world cups representing Team USA, is a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and a four-time Euro League Champion.

With tensions between Russia and the United States escalating due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Griner’s situation is getting increasingly complex. Russia is known for being anti-cannabis, with all forms of cannabis (including CBD) deemed illegal in the country. Anyone found in possession of more than 6 grams of flower or 2 grams of hashish can be charged with a criminal offense, as is the case with Griner.

Athletes Are No Strangers to Cannabis Arrests

Sadly, professional athletes are frequently punished for cannabis possession and consumption. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was arrested twice over cannabis, once for having 6 grams in Toronto and once for driving under the influence in Los Angeles. Nick Diaz, Michael Vick, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Warren Sapp, Ricky Williams, Michael Phelps, and many other professional athletes have also experienced negative repercussions because of embracing cannabis. Fortunately for most of these individuals, their cannabis crimes occurred in America.

Even as the U.S. cannabis industry evolves, the nation is still severely lacking when it comes to cannabis laws. Historically, minor instances of cannabis possession have cost innocent people jail time and lots of fines. One such case is that of Bernard Noble, a Louisiana father who faced 13 years in prison over about two joints. After serving nearly half of the 13-year sentence, Bernard was released from prison. Luckily, this detrimental trend is waning as cannabis is legalized and destigmatized.

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

With countries around the world slowly legalizing cannabis, it seems that Griner was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Canada and Mexico have both moved forward with federal cannabis legalization. In January, Thailand went down in history as the first Asian nation to decriminalize recreational cannabis. Russia, however, has shown no signs of pursuing legalization, and Americans fear that the nation will attempt to make an example out of Griner.

The Phoenix Mercury told media sources, “We are aware of and closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA, and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.” Congressman Joaquin Castro of Griner’s home state of Texas said, “This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining and imprisoning US citizens. US citizens are not political pawns.”

Griner’s teammates, family, and fellow Americans are following her situation closely in the hope that the basketball player is able to return home relatively unharmed. Whatever the amount of cannabis oil Griner possessed, it’s unlikely that it warrants such an extreme response from Russian officials.

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