On March 5, Russia announced that they’d detained American WNBA star Brittney Griner on drug charges, right at the start of the conflict between the European country and Ukraine. They accused her of transporting vape cartridges containing cannabis oil through Moscow, which is illegal in Russia. 

Since news of her arrest hit the internet, the whereabouts of the basketball player are unknown, and the possibility of Russia using her as a political pawn in times of war is extremely possible. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. 

Griner’s arrest is another example of why it is so important to adhere to the customs, rules, and regulations when visiting foreign countries. As Americans, it can be easy to get lost in the allure of being in a foreign land. However, some of the freedoms we enjoy in our native country are not permitted overseas. 

Many people have voiced online that the arrest seems petty. They believe that a vape cartridge isn’t a big deal compared to more explicit drugs and substances, and feel like Russia is simply playing games because they don’t like the US. Although those opinions may be valid, it doesn’t negate the fact that Russia has strict laws on drugs and that, even though some US states allow legal cannabis consumption, you have to follow the laws when in the country. 

Griner is no stranger to Russian territory. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has played internationally for the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team for seven years during the off-season. Like most WNBA players, Griner has no real off season due to making significantly less playing in the states. While the average NBA player’s salary is $7.5 million dollars, the average WNBA player only makes $116,000. To make up for this huge pay disparity, female basketball stars venture abroad. 

By playing for Russia, Griner earns more than 1 million dollars, quadruple what she makes playing in the WNBA for the Phoenix Mercury, and has led the team to three Russian National League championships and four EuroLeague championships. She is a vital asset to both her international and domestic teams and is one of America’s greatest athletes, both male and female. 

Which makes it even more odd as to why the sports star has been sitting in Russian custody for over three weeks now. 

In an interview with CNN, US Representative Colin Allred said that the US Embassy has requested consular access to Griner, but has been denied for three weeks. Without government access to her, Allred said the situation is concerning and says it will be “very difficult” to get the athlete out of Russia given the current political climate. 

California Rep. John Garamendi also told CNN that US diplomatic relations with Russia are “nonexistent” at the moment, making it hard to get the basketball player the help that she needs. US officials have spoken with Griner’s Russian attorney, and they have confirmed she is safe but still in custody. 

Brittney Griner is not the first American celebrity to get caught up in not following the rules while overseas. In 2008, Norway banned rapper Snoop Dogg from the country after he attempted to enter the country with eight grams of marijuana. Because of their traditional cultural beliefs, Malaysia banned Beyoncé from performing in their country because they felt she was too provocative of an entertainer. 

ASAP Rocky was arrested in Sweden in 2019 for assault following a fight that was captured on video. Although he was released and both cases were eventually dropped, the rapper’s detention was all over the news and social media and many questioned if it was another example of systematic racism abroad.

Know the rules before you go


Still held in Russian custody, Griner’s arrest is a cautionary tale to all travelers to be aware of their surroundings and to follow the laws within the nation they’re visiting. It’s important to do research on the country you plan on visiting beforehand to make sure you and anyone traveling with you are aware of protocols in those respective places. While breaking some rules may get you odd looks from the locals and short-lived embarrassment, others may land you in major trouble and even jail. 

In Singapore, it is against the law to chew gum. Yes, gum. So be sure to have some mints on deck if you need to freshen your breath because gum is strictly prohibited. 

There are a ton of laws and regulations you have to follow in the UAE, so do your research before embarking on a trip to Dubai. For example, unlike a lot of popular vacation spots in America, public intoxication in Dubai is illegal. Some places are licensed for alcohol consumption, but this is not the place to get sloppy drunk on the beach or on the patio at your hotel. Additionally, you should not take photos of people without their permission, use foul or vulgar language in public places, or disrespect Ramadan if you are traveling to the country during the religious season. This includes no eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the day.

Every country is different and no matter where you are traveling from, it is vital that you respect their customs and laws in their domain. You can learn more about laws and regulations in destinations you plan to visit by doing a simple Google search or by joining travel Facebook groups dedicated to that specific country. 

Although communication is limited, it does seem that the US government and various legal teams are working to get Brittney Griner home. But with tension rising between Russia and Ukraine, this is the worst possible time to be stuck in a place that isn’t on the best terms with the United States government. There is no timeline for the athletic star returning safely to America and, more and more time passing, fewer headlines are emerging about her detention and fewer voices are speaking up about getting her back to the states. 

Had Brittney Griner been detained in any other country, the chances of her being returned faster would be a greater possibility. But as days go by and the political climate continues to grow ablaze, it is my hope that the athlete doesn’t become another piece of a messy political puzzle that gets lost in the propaganda and illusions of war.