Brittney Griner Case Highlights America’s Marijuana Contradictions, Harsh Sentencing Against Black America

Brittney Griner Case Highlights America’s Marijuana Contradictions, Harsh Sentencing Against Black America


Photo: Brittney Griner, just outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 4, 2022.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia for possessing having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian jail for drug-smuggling. Some say a marijuana conviction wouldn’t have been much different in the U.S. for Black women. In some case, it could have been worse.

According to an analysis done by the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the U.S. and Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. When found guilty, Black people are given harsher sentences.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in July and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry. She was fined1 million rubles, or about $16,400, and sentenced to nine years in jail, CNN reported.

“I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime,” the 31-year-old player said in her apology prior to sentencing.

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The sentence came about six months after Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

How would the Griner story have played out in the U.S.?

There is a major contradiction in the way Black Americans and white Americans are sentenced in the U.S. And as the Black Panthers said, “We must heighten the contradictions.”

In 2021, The Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld a life sentence for Allen Russell, 38, who had been convicted of a marijuana possession charge because he had previous convictions, and those made him a habitual offender.

In 2019 Russell was sentenced to life after a jury found him guilty of possession of more than 30 grams (1.05 ounces) of marijuana. It was Russell’s prior convictions that landed him with the harsh sentence. Russell was convicted of two home burglaries in 2004 and for unlawfully possessing a firearm in 2015. By law, burglary is a violent offense in Mississippi, whether or not there is proof that violence occurred, the Associated Press reported.

There is a movement to get Mississippi inmate Tameka Drummer’s life sentence overturned. Drummer, like Russell, is serving life after a marijuana arrest. Drummer was found guilty of having less than two ounces of marijuana in her possession and received a life sentence in 2008. Drummer had been pulled over for an expired license plate in northern Mississippi’s Alcorn County, and officers found marijuana in her vehicle, The Clarion-Ledger reported. Drummer was sentenced as a habitual offender because of previous convictions. Drummer had previously been convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1992, aggravated assault in 1998, and possession of marijuana in 2007 in the Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee. 

Some charges that the laws that have landed both Russell and Drummer in prison for life without the possibility of parole are draconian.

Attorney Alec Karakatsanis, the founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corp, tweeted on Aug. 4, “One of our clients was an 11-year-old Black child taking a shower before bed when DC police burst into her bathroom, pulled back the curtain, and pointed guns at her naked body. Cops said they found a little marijuana on her dad (who didn’t live there) two weeks before.”

Karakatsanis’s client is Shandalyn Harrison.

Back in 2013, police pulled Harrison’s ex-boyfriend over for having an obstructed license plate. They found five ounces of marijuana, which is a misdemeanor but he had two prior misdemeanor convictions for selling marijuana. Police located an address for him from his suspended D.C. driver’s license and a utility listing from December 2012, according to court documents.

But the house was rented to Harrison, and she said she had previously told police that her boyfriend had never lived there. Still, on April 18, 2013, as Harrison was watching television with two of her daughters, 20 police officers raided her house.

“Everyone was running in. No one told me what was going on,” Harrison, 35, later told The Washington Post.

Harrison’s 11-year-old daughter was taking a shower when an officer pulled open the curtain and pointed a gun at her, according to the mother and daughter.

Desert Storm military veteran Derek Harris was sentenced to life in prison for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Harris was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling an officer .69 grams of marijuana. In 2020, he was resentenced and was released. He had served nine years in prison.

At first, Harris was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was resentenced in 2012 to life in prison under the Habitual Offender Law, CNN reported.

Some politicians are recognizing the discrepancies in sentencing between Black and white offenders.

“Brittney is a political prisoner. Her sentence for having less than *1 gram* of cannabis oil is unimaginably cruel and outrageous. Also a reminder that cannabis inexplicably remains a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. and millions have been locked up for nonviolent drug charges,” noted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the Squad, progressive Democrats.

Photo: WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a court room ater a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)