Welcome to our new web site!

To give our readers a chance to experience all that our new website has to offer, we have made all content freely avaiable, through October 1, 2018.

During this time, print and digital subscribers will not need to log in to view our stories or e-editions.


Griner deal exposes confused policy


Our nation’s efforts to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian prison demonstrate how conflicted we are on the enforcement of cannabis laws.

It was announced last week the United States has agreed to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, better known as the merchant of death, in exchange for Griner and retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian prison since 2020, serving a 16-year sentence on trumped-up espionage charges. Russia has rejected that offer, demanding that we add Vadim Krasikov, a convicted murderer being held in Germany, to the deal.

Griner, who plays for professional basketball leagues in both the U.S. and Russia, was arrested in February when agents at the Moscow airport found vape cartridges containing cannabis oils in her luggage. She has never claimed the drugs were planted on her.

Griner explained she is a legal medical marijuana user in Arizona, where she plays for the Phoenix Mercury. She said she did not intend to bring the drugs with her but packed them by mistake because she was rushed.

The U.S. government has ruled Griner is being “wrongfully detained,” which is a bit odd given she can be legally detained for the exact same offense in 12 states where medical marijuana usage is still illegal.

Griner is able to use medicinal cannabis for home games in Phoenix, but not when the team goes on the road to play against the Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream, Dallas Wings, Houston Comets or Charlotte Sting. Any attempt to bring cannabis into those states would risk the same arrest she suffered in the Moscow airport.

Would the U.S. government consider that to be wrongful? According to a 2020 story by Forbes, there are an estimated 40,000 Americans being held in U.S. prisons and jails for marijuana convictions. A study by the ACLU found there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010.

Though the State Department has stopped keeping track, it is estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 U.S. citizens a year are taken into custody in foreign countries, many of them on drug charges. Of course, only one averaged 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.

Griner has become a pawn in a much larger and more dangerous game, as relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their lowest point since the Cold War. I fear public appeals for her release will only increase her value in the eyes of Vladimir Putin, who clearly thinks he can now get more than just Bout.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. 

Walt Rubel