Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for possession of illegal narcotics

Jenna Taylor, Staff Writer

Brittney Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in an airport in Moscow this February for having illegal substances in her luggage. To clarify, the illegal substances that Griner had in her luggage were two vape cartridges, each with less than one gram of cannabis oil. In Russia, cannabis is classified as a narcotic. 

Six months after her arrest, the Russian court found Griner guilty of attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics and sentenced her to nine years in a Russian prison. Griner did plead guilty in hopes of getting a lighter sentence and testified that she made an “honest mistake” in packing the vape cartridges because she was quickly “stress-packing” before her flight and “never intended to break any Russian laws.” Although Griner was found guilty of these charges, it caused a lot of debate in the U.S. over whether or not President Biden should intervene. 

On one side, people believe that Griner is in the wrong for packing the cartridges and should serve her sentence in a Russian prison. On the opposing side, people believe that Griner should not be forced to live out her sentence in a Russian prison. In addition to these harsh conditions, Griner, a gay black woman, will likely face even more cruel treatment due to her being a minority in Russia.

Cannabis is classified as an illegal narcotic in Russia, and those found guilty of the possession of narcotics are sent to a Russian penal colony where they have severe overcrowding issues, food shortages and issues with sanitation. 

President Biden is currently in the process of negotiating a prisoner swap with Russia in which they release Griner, along with U.S. marine prisoner Paul Whelan, in exchange for a Russian arms dealer being held in a U.S. prison, Viktor Bout. Biden stated that Griner’s nine-year sentence is “unacceptable” and that his administration will “pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”