The fate of Brittney Griner, a U.S. national team basketball player, is unknown after she was taken into custody last month by Russian authorities for allegedly carrying cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage near Moscow.
The 6-foot-9 center for the Phoenix Mercury was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. She is a seven-time league all-star and a member of two Olympic gold medal squads for Team U.S.A.
Griner, 31, was detained after an airport screening in February, which came to light March 5, after she was identified by Russian state-owned news agency TASS.
As one of about 70 WNBA players who rely on income from playing in overseas leagues during their offseason, Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for the past several years, The New York Times reported. (As a top player in the WNBA, Griner’s current salary is roughly $230,000, a fraction of the average salary of roughly $8 million for NBA players.)
The Russian Federal Customs Service announced Saturday that a drug detection dog had prompted the search of an American basketball player’s carry-on luggage at the Sheremetyevo International Airport, just north of Moscow. TASS then identified that player as Griner.
Griner, who stopped posting on Instagram Feb. 5, could potentially face up to a 10-year prison sentence that’s associated with criminal cases involving drug transportation in the country, according to the Russian customs service.
In response to the allegations against and detention of Griner, U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins said she must not be used as a “pawn” by Russia and urged U.S. government officials to use all possible avenues to bring the Houston native back home.
Hawkins formerly led Amnesty International USA and the Coalition for Public Safety.
“With Brittney Griner’s arrest and ongoing detention in Russia, we’re seeing the destructive effects of cannabis prohibition play out on the world stage,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with Brittney and her family, and we wish her a speedy return home.
“Cannabis possession, alleged or real, is routinely used as a pretext by law enforcement around the world to target disfavored individuals and groups. In this case, Russian authorities appear to be using alleged cannabis possession as a pretext for holding a prominent American as leverage.”While it remains unclear whether Russian officials targeted Griner as a well-known American, the WNBA player’s potential leverage is at the disposal of a country currently experiencing sanctions from the U.S. in connection to its invasion of Ukraine.