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Brittney Griner Released from Russian Prison in Exchange for Arms Dealer

Brittney Griner (WNBA) was released on Thursday, following months of being held in Russia for a small amount marijuana.

Griner was a player for the Phoenix Mercury. She was detained at a Russian Airport on February 17, and later pleaded guilty. 

She ultimately faced nine years in prison for 0.7 grams of weed: “[Ms. Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” Russian news agency TASS stated. Griner was sent to Russia’s penal colony.

Griner’s case is a flashpoint for debate—given the thousands of other Americans in prison in the U.S. and beyond on cannabis-related charges. After five months of diplomatic efforts and misleading messages by Russian officials, the negotiations finally ended.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said at the White House, alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In a Russian news agency release, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the Swap took place in Abu-Dhabi. Bout was also flown home. Biden and a Russian top official confirmed last week that negotiations were underway.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said on November 18 that there was new activity surrounding a potential prisoner swap, but people remained generally skeptical. Tensions continue to rise amid the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

People whose loved ones are facing charges related to cannabis use will feel bittersweet about the result.

Griners Release comes at a price

Griner’s release comes at a price: In order to secure Griner’s release, Biden ordered Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” to be freed and returned to Russia as a stipulation. Biden executed a commutation agreement to release Bout of his 25-year sentence in federal prison.

Bout is a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel who was described by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. Bout’s fingerprint can be seen in the supply of missiles and arms in violent wars in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Congo, and the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya in 2011.

It is absurd that 0.07 grams of marijuana is equivalent.

CBS News reports, John Sullivan, the ex-Moscow Ambassador, that Russian officials wanted Bout to be freed, and no deal was possible.

After a sting operation by American agents, Bout was taken into custody by the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Thailand. After a sting operation in 2008 by American agents, Bout was eventually convicted and sentenced for conspiring to murder Americans. He served 25 years of his sentence. 

Bout spent the most recent time in Marion federal prison, Illinois. He was released shortly after that.

No Other Prisoners

Celebrities pointed out the hypocrisy as thousands of cannabis-infected prisoners across the U.S. waited for their release. 

U.S. officials attempted for several months to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan man also locked up in Russia since December 2018 on “espionage charges” that his family and the U.S. government both deny.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden said. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

But it’s important to keep in mind that Whelan’s own family supports the release, despite still waiting for Paul’s release. “The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” Paul’s brother David said in a statement.

In exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko (Russian cocaine smuggler) and Trevor Reed, an American ex-prisoner, the U.S. swapped Konstantin Yaroshenko last April. 

  • Benjamin M. Adams

    Benjamin M. Adams works as a Staff Writer for Chronic News. His writings have appeared in Vice, Forbes and HuffPost. Southern New Hampshire University awarded him a Bachelor in Communication.

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