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How Russia’s Citizen Drug Laws Compare to Brittney Griner’s Sentence

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

This sentence appears to be in line with an established Russian penal code outlining criminal penalties for those found guilty of violating national laws on the movement of cannabis. The code states that a person convicted of such a crime “may be sentenced to eight to twenty years imprisonment, or even life imprisonment if the crime is committed on a particularly large scale (for cannabis , that means more than 10 kg),” 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 List I of narcotic drugs and psychoactive substances. The movement of substances included in List I is under the strictest government control,” CMS wrote.

This statement is supported by a copy of the “List of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors which will be subject to control in the Russian Federation” published on the World Trade Organization website. “List I” of the document includes “Cannabis (marihuana) [sic].”

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

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

The legal advice source detailed the criminal penalties faced by those found guilty of breaking Russia’s cannabis traffic laws, writing:

The unauthorized manufacture, 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 cannabis produced or sold illegally, whether the crime was committed by an individual or an organized criminal group, etc.), the convicted person may be sentenced to eight to twenty years imprisonment a term of imprisonment, or even life imprisonment if the crime is committed on a particularly large scale (for cannabis this means more than 10 kg).

Garner’s sentencing this week to 9½ years in prison for “drug trafficking” does not appear to have derogated from established Russian drug laws.

The Khimki City Court in Moscow found Griner guilty of “drug trafficking” on August 4, Russian news agency TASS reported.

“The court hereby finds the defendant guilty under Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition, storage, transportation or possession of narcotics without intention of sale) and Article 229.1.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (significant drug trafficking),” Judge Anna Sotnikova said.

Russian authorities arrested Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo-AS Pushkin International Airport on February 17 after airport officials found cannabis oil vaporizer pen cartridges in his luggage. Airport police arrested Griner on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia. Griner pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia on July 7. However, Griner said she included the cannabis oil in her suitcase while rushing to pack and had “no criminal intent” in attempting to travel with the substance.

Griner is a professional athlete and current member of the US Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Griner won gold medals in USA women’s basketball at the 2014 and 2018 World Championships and the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Immediately before his arrest, Griner played for the Russian women’s basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Russian authorities recorded nearly 180,000 drug trafficking offenses nationwide in 2021, “marking a decrease in the number of such offenses compared 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 number increased over the following decade, reaching 236.9 thousand in 2015,” according to the statistics portal.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other watchdog groups have criticized Russia’s strict criminal code for being too harsh in awarding lengthy prison sentences for convicted drug offences.

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