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WNBA star Brittney Griner detained in Russia over cannabis oil


Why are we only learning this now?

Basketball star Brittney Griner, WNBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, was detained in Russia for days or even weeks after customs officers in Moscow allegedly found cannabis vape cartridges in his luggage.

The timeline of Griner’s arrest is unclear. Customs officials released security footage of a 6ft 9in individual appearing to be Griner passing through security at Sheremtyevo in Moscow in February, but did not identify her by name or give an exact date of detention.

Griner has a well-documented history of traveling to Russia to work during the WNBA offseason. Many WNBA players supplement their income by playing for foreign teams during the winter. In recent years, Griner has played for The Russian UMMC in Yekaterinburg in the Women’s Euroleague of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

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His detention highlights not only the escalation of tensions in Europe, but also the alarming trend of American athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson facing major international consequences for engaging with cannabis, even as cannabis legalization spreads to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries.

The Russian government has reportedly opened a criminal case against the seven-time WNBA All-Star due to state laws prohibiting the possession of recreational or medical cannabis. In Russia, vape cartridges of hashish allegedly found in Griner’s luggage could result in a 10-year sentence for just two grams.

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Griner’s wife, Cherelle, posted this Instagram message after news of the basketball star’s arrest broke around the world. (Instagram post)

What will happen to Brittney Griner?

Mercury Phoenix, Griner’s WNBA team released a statement on Instagram on Saturday, March 5, acknowledging Griner’s detention. But the question worth asking is obvious: how has this news remained silent for so long?

Griner is one of the WNBA’s biggest stars. Headlines about Russia dominated world news for weeks. Unfortunately, Griner was dragged into a world chess match for trying to pursue her basketball dreams and earn a salary commensurate with her talent.

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No WNBA player, let alone one of the league’s biggest stars, should have to work overtime overseas to supplement their salary at home. Perhaps if these women could receive equal pay equal to that of their NBA male counterparts, American treasures like Griner wouldn’t feel the need to travel to Russia at such a tenuous time in history.

His vulnerability as an openly queer black American trapped in a hostile Russian state should alarm any American. She certainly faced anti-black and anti-LGBTQ sentiments abroad and at home long before Russia attacked Ukraine. But the dangerous circumstances of war and geopolitics further complicate an already stressful reality. Simply put, living in a world where a plant that does no harm can put a black woman behind bars for simply trying to excel in her craft and career.

Janessa Bailey

Janessa was born and raised in the Midwest and is Leafly’s current cultural editor. She has a background in content, activism and African American studies.

Janessa is the creator of Lumen and Seeds of change.

See articles by Janessa Bailey





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