KHIMKI, Russia (AP) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner’s drug trial in a Russian court Tuesday centered on testimony that cannabis, though illegal in Russia, is considered a legitimate medicinal use in other countries.
Griner acknowledged that she was carrying vape pods containing cannabis oil when she was arrested in February at a Moscow airport, but maintains that she had no criminal intent and that the pods ended up in her luggage inadvertently because of her hasty packing.
“We’re not arguing that Brittney took it here as medicine. We’re still saying that she brought her here involuntarily because she was in a hurry,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said after the session in which a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the worldwide use of medicinal cannabis.
“The Russian public needs to know, and the Russian court first, that it was not used recreationally 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 he had the bottles is aimed at getting him a light sentence.
“We have a lot of mitigating factors. So we hope the court will take that into account. And the courts in Russia, in fact, have a very wide discretion when it comes to sentencing,” said Maria Blagovolina, another of Griner’s lawyers.
The trial for the two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury standout began on July 1, but only five sessions were held, some lasting just an hour.
Griner’s slow trial and five months in detention drew strong criticism from her teammates and supporters in the United States, who formally declared her “detained by mistake,” a designation Russian officials strongly rejected.
Elizabeth Rood, the US Embassy’s charge d’affaires, attended Tuesday’s court hearing. Griner “confirms that he is doing well and as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” he told reporters.
Griner was arrested in February amid high tensions between the United States and Moscow before Russia sent troops to Ukraine later that month. Some supporters claim she is being held in Russia as a pawn, possibly for a prisoner exchange. American soccer standout Megan Rapinoe said last week that she “is being held as a political prisoner, obviously.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry hit out at the US claim that Griner is being detained unfairly and said Russian laws should be respected.
“If an American citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was dealing drugs, and she does not deny it, then this should be in line with our local Russian laws, and not those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington. ” , spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“If drugs are legalized in the United States, in several states, and this has been done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug addicts, this does not mean that all other countries are going the same way.” she added.
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be traded 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, may also figure in a trade.
US officials have not commented on the prospects for such trade. Russian officials said no exchange could be discussed until the conclusion of the legal proceedings against Griner. It is not clear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until December 20.
Earlier trial sessions included character witnesses from the manager and captain of the Russian team Griner played for in the offseason, along with written testimony including a letter from a doctor authorizing her to use cannabis for pain management.
Griner’s Russian trial considers the medicinal use of cannabis
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