How Russian Drug Laws for Citizens Compare to Brittney Griner Sentence

Brittney Griner
AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov

A Russian court sentenced U.S. citizen and WNBA player Brittney Griner to nine and a half years in prison on Thursday for smuggling cannabis oil into Russia in February.

This sentence appears to be in accordance with an established Russian penal code outlining criminal punishments for people found guilty of violating the nation’s cannabis circulation laws. The code states that a person convicted of such a crime “may be sentenced to eight to twenty years of imprisonment, or even to a life sentence if the crime is committed on an especially large scale (for cannabis this means more than 10kg),” the international legal advisory service CMS observed in a recent article.

Russian law prohibits the use of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, according to an article titled “Cannabis Law and Legislation in Russia,” published by CMS in April 2021.

“Cannabis is included in the List I of the narcotic and psychoactive substances. The circulation of substances included in the List I is under the strictest governmental control,” CMS wrote.

This statement is supported by a copy of the “Enumeration of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Their Precursors That Shall Be Subject to Control in the Russian Federation” published on the World Trade Organization’s website. “List I” of the document includes “Cannabis (marihuana) [sic].”

The Associated Press

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. American basketball star Brittney Griner returned Wednesday to a Russian courtroom for her drawn-out trial on drug charges that could bring her 10 years in prison if convicted. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

“Depending on particular circumstances, a violation of the rules on cannabis circulation may be punished under different articles of the Russian Criminal Code,” according to CMS.

The legal advisory source detailed the criminal punishments facing people convicted of violating cannabis circulation laws in Russia, writing:

Non-authorised manufacturing, sale or delivery of narcotic or psychotropic substances, their analogues or plants containing narcotic or psychotropic substances (including cannabis) is punishable under Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Depending on various factors (such as the volume or weight of the cannabis produced or sold unlawfully; whether the crime was committed by an individual or an organised criminal group, and so forth), the convicted person may be sentenced to eight to twenty years of imprisonment, or even to a life sentence if the crime is committed on an especially large scale (for cannabis this means more than 10kg).

Garner’s sentence this week of 9.5 years in prison for “drug smuggling” does not seem to have deviated from Russia’s established drug laws.

The Khimki City Court of Moscow found Griner guilty of “drug smuggling” on August 4, Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported.

“The court hereby finds the defendant guilty under Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition, storage, transportation or possession of narcotic drugs without intent to sell) and Article 229.1.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (significant drug smuggling),” Judge Anna Sotnikova said.

Russian authorities arrested Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo — A.S. Pushkin international airport on February 17 after airport officials found cannabis oil vaporizing pen cartridges in her luggage. Police at the airport detained Griner on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia. Griner pled guilty to attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia on July 7. However, Griner said that she included the cannabis oil in her suitcase while rushing to pack and that she harbored “no criminal intent” by attempting to travel with the substance.

Griner is a professional athlete and current member of the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Griner won gold medals in U.S. women’s basketball at the 2014 and 2018 World Championships and at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. Immediately prior to her arrest, Griner played for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg women’s basketball team.

Russian authorities registered nearly 180,000 drug trafficking offenses nationwide in 2021, “marking a decrease in the number of such offenses relative to the previous year,” Statista observed on March 1.

“After a sharp decrease in drug-related crimes in the country between 2000 and 2005, their amount grew over the following decade, measuring at 236.9 thousand in 2015,” according to the statistics portal.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other watchdog groups have criticized Russia’s strict penal code for being overly severe in its assignment of extended prison terms for convicted drug violations.

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