President Biden took action earlier this month to decriminalize marijuana possession, pardoning all federally convicted felons sentenced for possession and, in his official statement, urging governors to do the same at the state level.
As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.
Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 6, 2022
In part, his decision may have been motivated by the harsh treatment of Brittney Griner, the eight-time All-Star and two-time gold medalist who was picked up for drug possession in Russia back in February, just days before Vladimir Putin’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
Undoubtedly, the Russian government’s excessively punitive treatment of Griner, who was sentenced to a nine-year prison term back in August and faces an uncertain future at a Russian labor camp, was sparked by its autocratic leader’s anger at US and international sanctions. Griner has also become a bargaining chip, perhaps meant to be leveraged in Russia’s efforts to free terrorist arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” currently luxuriating in a Marion, Illinois federal prison, where he most assuredly must be very popular.
I mentioned this case in my tweets a couple of days ago. The geopolitical means and timings of these cases are significantly different. 2019 is not 2022. US-Russian relations are at a bottom now. Mark Vogel, a white male American is serving 14 years on similar charges to BG. https://t.co/wZyoemkOgR
— Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon (@ksvarnon) August 6, 2022
Griner has been classified by the US as a “wrongfully detained” hostage, and her cause is now being handled by SPEHA, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs under the State Department. President Biden has also declared that he would be willing to meet with Putin, so long as the autocrat is open to discussing Griner’s case. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who you might remember from his joyful meeting with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, and who most assuredly knows where many lost bodies are buried, has stated that the Russians would be open to such a meeting, though many dismiss this as pure posturing.
Photo from a proud Russian Ministry
Sergei Lavrov: "Moscow is not rejecting a meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents, and if the United States makes a proposal of the kind, it will be considered by Moscow." (Interfax)
Putin is desperate for international recognition so he can bomb more. Give him none!
— Anders Åslund (@anders_aslund) October 11, 2022
It should be kept in mind, of course, that as Putin loses more troops and suffers more embarrassments in Ukraine, he also appears to be growing more desperate, threatening the use of nuclear weapons and perhaps even blowing up one of his own gas lines to hurt Europe. This does not bode well for Griner, who may be the unfortunate recipient of Putin’s wrath, though our government is currently working diligently to ensure that does not happen.
Biden’s actions to decriminalize marijuana, meanwhile, serve as a potent message, meant to demonstrate a more humane approach. Of course, thus far in his career, Mr. Putin is not known for his humanity, but only for his solid determination to maintain his grip on power. It’s why so many of his political opponents and detractors meet with such unfortunate ends, slipping out of windows and whatnot as they have a habit of doing.
As Griner rots away in prison, the US must ponder how to treat Russian athletes. Different leagues have approached this question differently, with no unified policy. The NHL, for one, has (somewhat inexplicably) continued to allow Russian players to play, instead of sending them back to Putin’s doorstep. (Though, perhaps when one considers this little thing called money, it’s not so inexplicable after all.)
If we're going to take all non-war measures, take them.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) April 20, 2022
Our government’s new tack on marijuana possession under President Biden and his acknowledgment that “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana” is a welcome policy change. Now, who’s going to change the situation for Brittney?
Ross Rosenfeld is a writer from New York whose work has appeared in many publications, and who is proud to be hated by Rudy Giuliani and just as proud to be part of the Occupy team. Follow him on Twitter @RossRosenfeld.