The trial of the US basketball star focused on Tuesday on testimony that cannabis is regarded as having legitimate medicinal use in America On Wednesday, WNBA star Brittney Griner explained her situation when she was arrested in February. Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who remains detained in Russia since February on drug smuggling charges, insists that she had no intent to break Russian law or indeed bring anything
Brittney Griner’s legal team argue cannabis has legitimate medical use
The trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russian court focused on Tuesday on testimony that cannabis, while illegal in Russia, is regarded in other countries as having legitimate medicinal use.
Griner has acknowledged that she was carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil when she was arrested in February at a Moscow airport, but she contends that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage inadvertently because of hasty packing.
“We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine. We are still saying that she involuntarily brought it here because she was in a rush,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said after the session in which a Russian neuropsychologist testified about worldwide use of medicinal cannabis.
“The Russian public has to know, and the Russian court in the first place has to know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor,” he said.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The medical testimony and Griner’s admission that she had the canisters is aimed at bringing her a mild sentence.
“We have a lot of mitigating factors. So we do hope that the court will take it into consideration. And the courts in Russia, in fact, have very broad discretion with regard to the sentence,” said Maria Blagovolina, another of Griner’s lawyers.
The trial of the two-time Olympic gold medalist began on July 1 but only five sessions have been held, some them lasting only about an hour.
The slow-moving trial and Griner’s five months of detention have raised strong criticism among teammates and supporters in the United States, which has formally declared her to be “wrongfully detained,” a designation sharply rejected by Russian officials.
Elizabeth Rood, the US embassy’s charge d’affaires, attended Tuesday’s court session. Griner “confirms that she is doing OK and as well as can be expected under these circumstances,” she told reporters.
Griner was arrested in February amid heightened US-Moscow tensions ahead of Russia sending troops into Ukraine later that month. Some supporters contend she is being held in Russia as a pawn, possibly for a prisoner swap. US soccer star Megan Rapinoe last week said “she’s being held as a political prisoner, obviously.’’
The Russian foreign ministry last week denied the US contention that Griner is being wrongfully detained and said Russian laws should be respected.
“If a US citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“If drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path,’’ she added.
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be exchanged for prominent Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, may also figure in an exchange.
US officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials have said no exchange could be discussed until the conclusion of the legal proceedings against Griner. It is unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until 20 December.
Previous trial sessions have included character-witness testimony from the director and captain of the Russian team that Griner played for in the off-season, along with written testimony including a doctor’s letter saying he had authorized her to use cannabis for pain treatment.
Brittney Griner Testifies How Cannabis Oil Ended Up In Her Bag
PHOENIX, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 13: Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury celebrates with fans following Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Sky 91-86 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
WNBA star Brittney Griner testified on Wednesday that her rights were never read and a language interpreter didn’t properly explain to her what documents she was signing before she was arrested in February.
Griner, who was arrested at an airport near Moscow, has already acknowledged that she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. However, she said there was no criminal intent involved.
When Griner was pulled aside at the airport, she claims an interpreter provided an “incomplete translation.” Additionally, she was apparently instructed to sign documents without an explanation.
Griner eventually handed over her belongings to a lawyer before being taken away in handcuffs. She said she received just a cursory translation of the allegations at her hearing on Feb. 19.
Earlier this week, Griner’s defense team argued that the cannabis oil she used in February was prescribed by a doctor to treat pain.
“We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine. We are still saying that she involuntarily brought it here because she was in a rush,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said. “The Russian public has to know, and the Russian court in the first place has to know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor.”
If Griner is convicted of transporting drugs, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
Brittney Griner: I don’t understand how cannabis oil ended up in my bags
B rittney Griner, the WNBA star who remains detained in Russia since February on drug smuggling charges, insists that she had no intent to break Russian law or indeed bring anything into the country.
The basketball player’s legal team are hoping for leniency from the Russian legal system, arguing that Griner was still recovering from COVID-19 and “stress packing” ahead of going to Russia.
Griner herself says she did not expect to see the cannabis oil found in her luggage and had not intended to pack it, saying it ended up in there by accident.
“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bags,” Griner said at a hearing in Khimki.
“I didn’t have any intent to use or keep in my possession any substance that is prohibited in Russia.
“With them being accidentally in my bags, I take responsibility, but I did not intend to smuggle or plan to smuggle anything into Russia.”
As part of her defence, Griner and her legal team are also focussing on how much she enjoys going to Russia and how she considers it her second home.
She also claims she had been advised against travelling to Russia in the US, but she wanted to uphold her commitment to her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, who she has represented during the WNBA off-season since 2014.