Opinion | Brittney Griner’s detention should prompt fixes to U.S. drug laws


Marc M. Howard is a professor of government and regulation at Georgetown College, where he directs the Prisons and Justice Initiative. He is the creator of “Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Authentic American Exceptionalism.”

Russia’s detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner about alleged possession of cannabis oil has strained U.S. diplomatic ties with Moscow and intensified intercontinental condemnation of Russia’s authoritarian routine. Griner testified this 7 days that when she was arrested in Moscow on Feb. 17, her legal rights have been not go through to her, as is demanded underneath Russian legislation. “I experienced no intention to split the regulation,” mentioned Griner, who was detained immediately after customs officials reportedly uncovered two cannabis vape cartridges in her baggage.

Regardless of what the result of U.S. endeavours to protected Griner’s release, it is very clear that Griner, who claims she was prescribed cannabis oil by a medical professional, has not gained due method. Although rightly condemning Griner’s detention, numerous have cited Russia’s “draconian” drug regulations and its imprisonment of “more people today per capita for drug crimes as opposed with the relaxation of Europe.” Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.), for instance, has claimed the Russian prison process “is pretty distinct than ours and is quite opaque.”

But Us residents really should rarely throw stones. Griner’s ordeal gives rationale to scrutinize the U.S. legal system’s therapy of drug offenses — and the tens of hundreds of persons languishing in American prisons for this kind of crimes.

In spite of $182 billion in yearly taxpayer funding for mass incarceration, the prison authorized procedure in this place falls much limited of our nation’s ideals. The U.S. system is plagued by in excess of-prosecution, abnormal sentencing, brutal jail circumstances, deficiency of rehabilitation possibilities and restricted reentry potential clients.

Consider leisure marijuana, which has been legalized in 19 states and decriminalized in 18 other folks. It remains illegal in Allred’s Texas as nicely as beneath federal legislation, together with in transportation concerning states. Cannabis, the substance at problem in Griner’s detention, comes from the hashish plant, as does marijuana, but is noticeably a lot more strong. Cannabis-associated offenses have often been punished more severely by U.S. courts. And even in states where by marijuana has been decriminalized, the changes at times do not extend to hashish concentrates.

Critically, the legalization wave has not benefited people today who have been convicted underneath previous rules that criminalized marijuana. Compared with most other international locations, together with Russia, the United States does not let modifications in laws to reward folks who had been previously punished under the previous laws. A 2020 ACLU report found that marijuana arrests account for extra drug arrests in the United States than any other drug course in 2018, the previous year for which the report analyzed facts, legislation enforcement created just about 700,000 cannabis arrests, far more than for all violent crimes combined as described by the FBI. According to 2020 knowledge from the Bureau of Justice Studies, almost a quarter-million People are powering bars for medications: Some 171,300 people today are incarcerated in condition prisons for drug-similar offenses (14 per cent of the overall range of state prisoners) and 67,438 in federal prisons (46.7 p.c of all all those in federal prisons).

Russian prosecutors argue that the .702 grams of hashish reportedly found in the vape cartridges in Griner’s baggage constitutes a “significant” total and have billed her with “large scale transportation of medicine,” which can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Nonetheless outrageous the prices sound — to any fair brain, the amount was fairly compact, and Griner testified on Wednesday that she needed the oil to assistance with suffering and inflammation of accidents sustained around her profession — it is really worth noting that U.S. prosecutions can be equally harsh. The distinction among “using” and “dealing” usually depends on arbitrary fat thresholds that are selectively used by prosecutors, leading many Us citizens to obtain shockingly prolonged sentences. Some 46,700 people in point out incarceration had been convicted of possession. But that is only component of the story, as some of the others incarcerated had been in possession of medicine but observed their costs elevated to “trafficking and dealing” because of the quantity of marijuana present.

U.S. incarceration charges for drug offenses have extended exceeded those of other Western democracies. In 2000, 70 p.c of drug possession and 74 {2c3a8711102f73ee058d83c6a8025dc7f37722aad075054eaafcf582b93871a0} of drug-working convictions in the United States resulted in incarceration, in comparison with just 8 percent and 21 percent in Germany that 12 months.

A lot of concerned about Griner’s ordeal be concerned about prison conditions in Russia. In this article, far too, our nation has tiny to gloat about: Quite a few reviews have found U.S. prisons to be overcrowded and understaffed, with the incarcerated uncovered to violence, malnutrition, and other environmental and wellness difficulties.

View: In jail, getting your period of time can put your lifestyle in hazard

While lots of seize on Griner’s incarceration to criticize Russia’s severe drug laws, U.S. practices must not be disregarded. Congress and condition legislatures could consider a big step ahead by building drug legalization legislation retroactive, this kind of that they would enable for the early release of the tens of 1000’s of Us residents who keep on being locked up for habits that most states — and most Individuals — no for a longer time take into account to be criminal.

President Biden and all 50 state governors ought to also take instant motion on the innumerable clemency petitions awaiting evaluate from people who are worthy of to be absolutely free as significantly as Griner does. Presented her background of social activism and help for felony legal reform, undoubtedly Griner herself would concur.