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Brittney Griner, two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Women’s National Basketball Association All-Star, is being held by Russian authorities after customs officials detected Cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was initially detained while trying to leave the country at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow back in February on drug charges; however, Russian officials just released the news of Griner’s detainment on Saturday.
The Russian Federal Customs Service stated that a working dog from the Sheremetyevo Customs canine department located the vape cartridges containing Hash, short for Hashish, oil in Griner’s carry-on luggage. According to the Times, a criminal case has been opened against Griner for “large-scale transportation of drugs.” These charges carry a potential sentencing term of 5 to 10 years.
Hashish oil, also known as Hash or honey oil, is a concentrated Cannabis extract made from the resin of the buds of the Cannabis plants. This potent form of Cannabis is most commonly sold in cartridges to be used in vape pens, like in Griner’s case, but it can also be ingested, smoked, or rubbed onto the skin. Another common use of Hash oil is “dabbing,” which refers to the use of a special pipe to heat and vaporize Hash oil.
Hash oil is 4 to 5 times more potent than regular Marijuana and contains a high level of THC, the same psychoactive ingredient as other Marijuana products. Since the processing of Hash oil isn’t standardized, it is unclear how much THC is in any one dose, but it can contain anywhere between 15% to 60% THC. This disparity in the percentage of THC leads to a significant range of side effects. Additional possible physical and mental side effects of Hash oil use include:
Across the US, 18 states allow for the recreational use of Marijuana, and 36 states allow for the drug’s medical use, but Hash oil is not always included in these laws. In the states that have legalized Cannabis oils with low-THC levels, individuals may use Hash oil as medical Marijuana, but it is case by case. In Russia, the recreational or medical use of any form of Marijuana is illegal.
Griner has been playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia for the past 5 off-seasons. The draw to play overseas for many women in the WNBA is the opportunity to make considerably more money than they do on their national teams. For example, the average income of a WNBA player in the US is $130,000; however, in overseas leagues, WNBA players can make up to a million dollars. About 70 WNBA players play with international leagues currently during the off-season, with more than a dozen in Russia and Ukraine. Griner’s detainment over alleged possession of Hash oil places the WNBA player in a dangerous waiting ground amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
What is particularly concerning in Griner’s case relates to Russia’s approach to drug use. In some countries, drug control is underlined with excessive, punitive measures which can undermine public health. In Russia, the country’s policy leans toward the criminalization and punishment of individuals who use drugs or have a substance use disorder (SUD) versus offering support through treatment and harm reduction methods.
In a case study by BMC, Russia’s official policy toward drug use is described as “social intolerance,” which means that poor treatment of those who use drugs is encouraged and legitimized. Such “poor treatment” of individuals struggling with drug abuse includes denying them access to essential medicines in treating addiction, like Suboxone used in treating Opioid abuse, and implementing treatments such as electroshock therapy and comatose therapy. The lack of evidence-based treatment options for individuals with a SUD in Russia and the harsh stigma around addiction leads to a declining number of individuals seeking medical treatment even as rates of people who use or depend on drugs increase.
As the world looks on as the war between Ukraine and Russia continues, a layer of tension surrounds Griner’s arrest as the unrest between Russia and the US grows. There are concerns that the country may be leveraging Griner’s case against the US in response to the Biden administration’s recent sanctions imposed on Russia. On the same day that news broke of Griner’s detainment, the State Department released an updated advisory urging US citizens to leave Russia immediately because of the “potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials.”
Carmen McCrackin earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Auburn and has over 3 years of professional writing experience. Her passion for writing and educating others led her to a career in journalism with a focus on mental health and social justice topics. Her main mission is to be a platform for all voices and stories, and to provide tangible resources to those seeking recovery for themselves or loved ones.