U.S. law might not be as severe as the Russian code on which American basketball player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison, but her case demonstrates both political hypocrisy and a continued need for federal marijuana reform.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after she pled guilty to charges filed when customs agents found cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage in February 2022, while entering the country to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason.
Many Americans consider Russia’s penalties to be draconian, marijuana is a Schedule I drug in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.
“Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” said President Joe Biden, who commands a vast criminal justice system that has denied petitions to reschedule marijuana and still punishes both users and distributors.
A first offense for possession of any amount of cannabis under the U.S. federal criminal code is punishable by up to one year in prison, with harsher sentences for subsequence convictions.
Although it remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, 19 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, while most states allow for medical use of marijuana. Alabama, Idaho, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming are the only states that have not legalized medical marijuana.
Marijuana laws are not enforced consistently, as Black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested than White people despite similar use rates.
From 2001 to 2018, police made more than 14.3 million marijuana arrests; almost 90 percent were for possession alone. According to the Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, more people were arrested for cannabis in 2019 than for all violent crimes put together.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) is legislation that sponsors say would end the federal prohibition on marijuana by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances but it also empowers states to implement their own laws governing the substance.
Elon Musk challenged Biden’s ongoing effort to release the WNBA star from a Russian prison while thousands of people locked up for cannabis possession in the United States of America are not getting the same attention from the White House.
“If the president is working so hard to free someone who is in jail in Russia for some weed, shouldn’t we free people in America?” asked Musk, a business magnate who founded PayPal, the Boring Company, SpaceX, Tesla and other companies. “There are people in jail in America for the same stuff. Shouldn’t we free them too? My opinion is that people should not be in jail for non-violent drug crimes.”
The White House Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) specifically mentioned marijuana on July 8, 2022, when it announced $81 million in grants to communities.
Although he is almost 40 percent through his term, Biden has done nothing to fulfill his campaign promise to release everyone in prison for marijuana.
While he opposes repealing the federal marijuana ban, he wants to decriminalize low-level possession, an idea that was at the cutting edge of marijuana reform in the 1970s.
Biden pledged marijuana decriminalization on the campaign trail, said that he’d move to reschedule cannabis and promised to grant clemency to people with marijuana convictions—but none of that has happened yet.
About 2,700 inmates are behind federal bars on pot-related charges.
Advocating for the, is Craig Cesal, who was serving a life sentence without parole because he didn’t take a plea bargain after being arrested on a marijuana conspiracy case. He owned a trucking repair business that fixed trucks that had been leased and used to smuggle pot.
Casel was freed by former President Donald Trump, who issued pardons on his last full day in office to a handful of nonviolent convicts among 237 individuals granted executive clemency after being charged or convicted of federal criminal offenses. Most of those pardoned were people that Trump had a personal or political connection with.
Flawed as Trump’s stunt was, critics say it is more than Biden has done despite teh Democrat’s promises to see justice and reform marijuana laws.