President Biden will meet with basketball star Brittney Griner’s wife at the White House Friday to discuss ongoing US efforts to free her from a nine-year prison sentence in Russia.
“The president wanted to make sure that their families understood that they were in mind and that his team has been working tirelessly every day to get Brittney and Paul home safely,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday.
Griner pleaded guilty in July to possessing a small amount of cannabis oil when she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17, one week before Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting harsh US sanctions.
The US government in July declared that Griner was “wrongfully detained” and reportedly offered to release infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is jailed in the US, in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
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.
The WNBA star’s wife spoke with Biden by phone on July 6 after venting about the lack of progress in the case.
Another US citizen jailed in Russia, Marc Fogel, got a 14-year sentence in June 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.
“I really hope [Griner] can get free soon,” marijuana activist and journalist Tom Angell tweeted last month. “But it’s plainly absurd on its face that the American president is willing to trade an arms trafficker for the famous basketball player while at the same time letting many other Americans rot in American prisons for cannabis. C’mon man!”
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.