Brittney Griner's Release Stirs Joy,
Relief and Waves of Debates
Britney Griner is back in the US. After nearly 300 days in a Russian prison and penal colony for crimes related to hashish oil, the American citizen and WNBA star was freed in a prisoner exchange. In return for Griner's release, America freed former Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in the deal. Griner's release had long been called for, with numerous individuals, including notable public figures, taking up the cause.
In recent weeks, both nations had indicated that a deal was imminent. The swap likely does not do much to thaw the frigid relationship between the two countries. However, Griner's release sparked a wave of debates in the US, ranging from the swap to the hypocrisy of stateside cannabis laws and imprisonment.
Despite wide-ranging pleas to bring her home, some have criticized the decision to exchange Griner for Bout. The concern stems from Bout's history in arms dealership and anti-American actions. The subject of the movie Lord of War, some have speculated that his release was not worth the freedom of a nonviolent prisoner like Griner. On the other hand, supporters of the exchange have countered by discussing the US's connection to Bout and its own involvement in global aggressions.
Others have highlighted the concerns around Paul Whelan, who remains in a Russian prison for espionage charges. Whelan has been imprisoned in a Russian penal colony for the past four years. Reports state that the Biden administration has been actively trying to bring him home as well, but efforts have not produced his release so far.
The above topics are undoubtedly hot button subjects that won't fully play out until many years from now. But what is clear now is that Griner is home. Her release has sparked a wave of joy among cannabis advocates and others in her circle. At the same time, many are left wondering why the US prioritized her release while thousands remain imprisoned in the US for nonviolent cannabis crimes.
Griner's release has many calling for similar to happen across the country. The Biden administration took its first steps by pardoning federal cannabis possession records this past year. However, the action did not affect many actively in prison. To its credit, the administration has been pushing for states to make similar efforts. Still, much of the public is focusing on Biden, hoping to see him take additional action to see the release of others like he had with Griner.
Public sentiment ranges from relief and enjoyment to outrage and concern. No matter where you stand, we must celebrate that a nonviolent cannabis prisoner is free. The war on drugs has proven to be ineffective and often discriminatory toward people like Brittney Griner. The US has a ways to go before it can correct the ills of its drug war. And while the exchange for Bout may not sit well with some, here is hoping that the administration's emphasis on bringing home a citizen charged with nonviolent cannabis means that change could come to America in the not-too-distant future.
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