American basketball player, Brittney Griner, aged 32, has been released from prison in Russia in a political exchange.
After being moved penal colony in the country last month, Griner has been exchanged for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner, the WNBA star and two-time US Olympic champion, was arrested at Moscow airport in February and was ordered to pay a fine of ₽1m (~£13,745) as well as being charged with a nine-year sentence for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis.
In a press statement, President Joe Biden commented: “People all across the country have learned about Brittney’s story, advocated for her release, stood with her throughout this terrible ordeal. And I know that support meant a lot to her family.
Read more: Ukraine could legalise cannabis in light of impact of Russian war
“I’m glad to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits. She’s relieved to finally be heading home. And the fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma, and she deserves space, privacy, and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained.”
Griner’s wife, Charelle Griner, stated: “…Over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life. And so, today, I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions. But the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”
Read more: Russia raises concerns over EU cannabis legalisation moves
While Griner’s return has been celebrated, US social welfare organisation, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has called “hypocrisy” on US lawmakers, stating that the situation should cause them to reflect on America’s own policies.
Executive Director pf NORML, Erik Altieri, stated: “Brittney Griner’s sentence of nine years in a penal colony for simple possession is a grotesque affront to the concept of justice and an unfortunate reminder of how draconic marijuana laws remain around the globe.
“However, it should also cause a serious level of reflection amongst our lawmakers and officials who feign disgust at the draconic punishment Griner is facing while turning a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding American citizens we throw in jail for the same crime.
“The time for platitudes is over, the United States government needs to realise the current federal policy of marijuana prohibition and anti-marijuana laws in many states aren’t notably different than the stance held by Putin’s regime in Russia and take real action to end those failed policies.
“Officials in the United States should do all they can to free Griner, but just as important, end the hypocrisy of acting repulsed by her sentencing while maintaining marijuana criminalisation at home by bringing our domestic marijuana policies in line with our nation’s stated principles of liberty and justice.”