Russia needs to release Brittney Griner. And US leaders need to fix our cannabis laws.

Excepting her status as a pro athlete, Griner would be subject to the disproportionately higher rates of enforcement for cannabis possession that affect marginalized communities in the United States.

As the trial for WNBA star Brittany Griner continues in Russia, politicians, celebrities and ordinary people who are outraged that Griner could face 10 years in prison for packing some hash oil cartridges in her carry-on have ramped up their push for her release.

Grassroots protests have been organized across the United States, from Phoenix, Arizona, to Harlem in New York. A petition on Change.org surpassed 310,000 signatures. Celebrities, athletes and prominent politicians continue to pile on the pressure.

The near universal support for Griner is by no means surprising. Not only is she a beloved, internationally recognized athlete, but the majority of Americans (68%, to be precise) support legalizing marijuana. 

Seventy percent of Americans also support clearing past cannabis convictions from criminal records for nonviolent offenders

Cannabis is a Schedule I drug in the USA Ironically – and despite the public’s overwhelming support for an end to cannabis criminalization – the draconian Russian laws that led to Griner’s detention are similar to our own.

After all, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug in the United States. This means that under federal drug trafficking guidelines, any U.S. citizen could face a jail sentence for flying with hash oil

That's not a hypothetical situation. More than 100,000 Americans languish in pretrial detention on drug charges. And, like Griner in Russia, non-U.S. citizens are regularly prosecuted under our harsh drug laws for crossing our border with cannabis.

Of course, there is a major differentiating factor in Griner’s case. She’s a celebrity. But excepting her status as a pro athlete, Griner – a Black gay woman – would be subject to the disproportionately higher rates of enforcement for cannabis possession that affect marginalized communities, particularly people of color, in the United States.

Griner pleaded guilty Thursday but said she did not intend to violate Russia's laws. Russian officials have signaled their openness to negotiating Griner's fate with the United States only after a verdict is reached in her case.

Russian authorities need to stop using Griner as a political pawn and release her from detention. At the same time, U.S. authorities must stop acting hypocritically and change our laws so we’re not continuing to unjustly detain people for cannabis here at home.