Biden meets with Brittney Griner’s wife amid 9-year standoff

President Biden met at the White House on Friday with Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is serving a nine-year sentence in Russia on marijuana charges – as US efforts to secure her release stalled.

The evening meeting was closed to reporters and Cherelle Griner was not expected to speak to reporters afterwards.

Biden also hosted Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Paul Whelan, whom Russia sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison for alleged espionage.

Griner, 31, pleaded guilty to possession of a small amount of cannabis oil in July when she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17, just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting harsh US sanctions .

The US government said Griner was “wrongly imprisoned” and reportedly offered to release notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, in exchange for Griner and Whelan.

The Kremlin has not approved the swap – as the US is sending billions of dollars worth of arms and financial aid to help the Ukrainian government repel the Russian invasion.

The US and Russia remain in a standoff in Griner's case.
Cherelle Griner has criticized the Biden government’s inaction so far.

“They have not responded to our offer,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Friday. “We made a serious offer to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home. The Russians did not respond to this offer.”

A Russian government spokesman previously denied that Griner’s prosecution was political, saying, “She broke Russian law and now she is being prosecuted.”

Cherelle Griner has criticized the performance of the Biden administration, telling The Associated Press in June that she has not been able to speak to her wife in four months.

“I find it unacceptable and I have no faith in our government at the moment,” Cherelle Griner said at the time.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia since 2020.
Biden also hosted Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Russian political prisoner Paul Whelan.

The Phoenix Mystery Center woman spoke to Biden by phone on July 6 after commenting on the lack of progress on the case.

Marc Fogel, another US citizen jailed in Russia in June, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for alleged possession of medical marijuana. The US government did not include him in the planned prisoner swap.

Proponents of marijuana reform point out that Biden has yet to fulfill his 2019 campaign promise to release “anyone” in US federal prisons for marijuana crimes, which he can do with his constitutional clemency powers.

According to a recent congressional estimate, there are 2,700 federal inmates, including some serving life sentences, including Pedro Moreno, 62, who distributed marijuana imported from Mexico from 1986 to 1996. Another federal inmate, Luke Scarmazzo, 42, has been serving 14 years of a 22-year sentence for operating a medical marijuana business in California.

Biden is opposed to outright legalizing marijuana, though he says he supports decriminalizing the drug.

As a senator, Biden authored legislation that jailed some pot dealers for life without parole. And last year, the White House fired at least five employees who admitted to using weed in the past.

A prisoner exchange was proposed to bring Whelan home.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in Russia for alleged espionage.

Outgoing President Donald Trump commuted the sentences of seven people who were serving life sentences for marijuana in 2021 — including two men who were sentenced to life without parole under the three-strike provision of the 1994 Penal Code, which Biden authored.

Marijuana is legal under state law for medical or recreational use in most parts of the United States, but American authorities still arrested more than 350,000 people for marijuana-related crimes in 2020, according to FBI data. Biden meets with Brittney Griner’s wife amid 9-year standoff


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