President Biden met Friday at the White House with Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence in Russia for marijuana — as US efforts to win her release falter.

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

Biden also hosted Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, who Russia sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 for allegedly spying.

Griner, 31, pleaded guilty in July to possessing a small amount of cannabis oil when she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17, exactly one week before Russia invaded Ukraine prompting harsh US sanctions.

The US government declared that Griner was “wrongfully detained” and reportedly offered to release infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is jailed in the US, in exchange for Griner and Whelan.

The Kremlin hasn’t agreed to the swap — as the US sends billions of dollars worth of weaponry and financial aid to support Ukraine’s government in fighting off Russia’s invasion.

The US and Russia remain in a stalemate over Griner's case.
Cherelle Griner has been critical of the Biden administration’s previous inaction.

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

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

Cherelle Griner has been critical of the Biden administration’s performance, telling The Associated Press in June that she hadn’t been able to speak with her wife in four months.

“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now,” Cherelle Griner said at the time.

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

The Phoenix Mystery center’s wife spoke with Biden by phone on July 6 after venting about the lack of progress in the case.

Marc Fogel, another US citizen jailed in Russia in June got a 14-year sentence for possessing what he said was medical marijuana. The US government hasn’t included him in the proposed prisoner swap. 

Marijuana reform advocates point out that Biden has not yet fulfilled his 2019 campaign pledge to free “everyone” in federal US prisons for pot crimes, which he can do with his constitutional clemency powers.

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

Biden is an opponent of outright marijuana legalization, though he says he supports decriminalization of the drug.

As a senator, Biden authored legislation that sent some pot dealers to prison for life without parole. And last year, the White House fired at least five staffers who admitted to past pot use.

There has been a prisoner swap proposed to bring Whelan home.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison for allegedly spying.

Outgoing President Donald Trump commuted the sentences of seven people serving life terms for marijuana in 2021 — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of the Biden-authored 1994 crime law.

Marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use under state law in most parts of the US, but American authorities still arrested more than 350,000 people in 2020 for pot offenses, according to FBI data.

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