Brittney Griner’s defense team in Russian court argues cannabis prescribed as painkiller

KHIMKI, Russia — The drug trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russian court on Tuesday focused on testimonies that although cannabis is illegal in Russia, it is considered a legitimate medicinal use in other countries.

Griner has admitted she was carrying vape canisters of cannabis oil when she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, but claims she had no criminal intent and that the canisters accidentally ended up in her luggage due to hasty packing.

“We’re not arguing that Brittney took it here as medicine. We still say that she brought it here involuntarily because she was in a hurry,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said after the session, in which a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the world’s use of medicinal cannabis.

“The Russian public needs to know, and the Russian court needs to know first and foremost, that it has not been 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 certificate and Griner’s admission that she had the canisters aims to get her a light sentence.

“We have many extenuating circumstances. So we hope the court will take that into account. And the courts in Russia actually have a very wide discretion regarding the verdict,” said Maria Blagovolina, another of Griner’s lawyers.

After approximately 90 minutes of Tuesday’s session, the case was adjourned to Wednesday afternoon.

The trial of the two-time Olympic gold medalist and standout Phoenix Mercury began on July 1, but only five sessions were held, some lasting just about an hour.

The slow trial and Griner’s five-month imprisonment have drawn intense criticism from teammates and supporters in the United States, who have officially declared them “wrongly imprisoned,” a label sharply opposed by Russian officials.

US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood attended Tuesday’s court session. Griner “confirms that she is doing well and as can be expected under the circumstances,” she told reporters.

ABC’s Good Morning America aired a brief interview with Griner from a producer in which she wished her wife, Cherelle, “good luck with the bar exam.”

When asked if she had any complaints, she replied, “No, no complaints. I’m just waiting patiently.” She showed off photos of her wife, friends and teammates.

Griner was arrested in February amid high tensions between the US and Moscow, before Russia sent troops to Ukraine later in the month. Some supporters claim she is being held as collateral in Russia, possibly for a prisoner exchange. American soccer player Megan Rapinoe said last week: “She is obviously being held as a political prisoner.”

Russia’s foreign ministry reacted sharply last week to US allegations that Griner was being wrongly imprisoned, saying that Russian laws should be respected.

“If a US citizen has been arrested in connection with drug smuggling and she doesn’t deny it, then it should be in accordance with our local Russian laws and not those of San Francisco, New York and Washington. ‘ said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

“If drugs are going to be legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and have been for a long time, and now the whole country is becoming addicted to drugs, that doesn’t mean all other countries are going the same way.” She added.

Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped for prominent Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is jailed in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia for espionage, could also be involved in an exchange.

US officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials said no exchange could be discussed until the court case against Griner was completed. It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until December 20.

Earlier court hearings included 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 allowed her to use cannabis to treat pain.

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34296702/brittney-griner-defense-team-argues-used-medical-cannabis-painkiller Brittney Griner’s defense team in Russian court argues cannabis prescribed as painkiller

Emma Bowman

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