Brittney Griner’s Long Walk to Freedom

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner’s February arrest at a Russian airport for carrying cannabis vape cartridges shocked the world. While this incident has clear geopolitical implications, her August conviction for drug possession and smuggling, and nine-year prison sentence that followed, was still heartbreaking. Throughout her ordeal, I have felt a profound sadness for Brittney and her family. They are likely experiencing unimaginable anguish. I’m also deeply troubled that in 2022 there are still so many places with draconian drug laws that upend lives.

Out of 195 recognized countries worldwide, only ten have fully legalized and regulated cannabis. The U.S. is not one of those nations. Nor is Russia. Most Americans know that our country is still ensnared in cannabis prohibition. However, some may not realize that the U.S. has exported its draconian and prejudiced approach to drug policy to other countries for nearly a century. The global war on cannabis shapes how major international organizations view and develop policy, as evidenced by the United Nations Drug Task Force, the most current manifestation of U.S. influence on global drug policy.

Like the U.S., harsh drug laws in other countries tend to impact marginalized communities the most. Poor people, ethnic and racial minorities, and queer people tend to be targeted and sentenced more harshly. For them, the long-term effects of arrests and convictions are also more severe. I fear for Brittney, and other people like her, who are alone in foreign countries, locked up in jails that mirror the inhumane conditions of our nation’s prison-industrial complex.

There is much work to be done to create an equitable and safe cannabis industry here and worldwide. While we can’t change the laws of other countries, we do have the opportunity to use our position as one of the most visible nations in the world to push for the acceptance, legalization, and regulation of cannabis products. Here are some things people can do to advocate for global awareness around cannabis:

  • Promote and purchase hemp products. Pay attention to where your products are sourced. Ask yourself, how is this made? Where was it made? Was there any pain in the process? We do it for coffee; we can do it for cannabis.
  • Spread the word about other cannabis applications. Beyond consumption, the plant has the potential to be an industrial powerhouse by producing traditional and novel commodities such as clothing, food, and building materials that can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Cannabis in the form of hemp has shown incredible potential to help address the climate crisis.
  • Talk about cannabis from a whole plant perspective. This is bigger than inebriation, or virtue signaling about drug use as if they are all the same. Tell your stories about the medicinal, spiritual, and industrial benefits of cannabis.

Right now, there isn’t much we can do to help Brittney directly. Her case currently rests in the realm of international diplomacy. However, we can and should put our energy toward uplifting Brittney’s name and calling on our political leaders to bring her home. They alone have the power to guarantee her safe return. Our responsibility is to keep the pressure on to ensure this incredible athlete doesn’t become a political casualty.

Share her story far and wide so that Brittney can reunite with her family, her sport, and we all can wake up from this collective nightmare.

Photo of Brittney Griner by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Toi Hutchinson

Toi Hutchinson is the CEO and President of the Marijuana Policy Project, the number one organization in the U.S. dedicated to legalizing cannabis. She previously served as an Illinois Senator from 2009 to 2019, championing a variety of causes including protecting women and children from violence, modernizing the state’s tax structure, and legalizing cannabis.

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