KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner’s drug trial in a Russian court on Tuesday focused on testimony that cannabis, while illegal in Russia, is considered in other countries as having a legitimate medical use.
Griner admitted in court earlier this month that she was carrying vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil when she was arrested in February at a Moscow airport. But she maintains that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage inadvertently due to hasty packing.
“We’re not saying Brittney took him here as medicine. We’re still saying she brought him here unwittingly because she was in a rush,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said after the hearing.
Another member of Griner’s defense team previously submitted a letter from an American doctor recommending the basketball player use medical cannabis to treat pain. At Tuesday’s hearing, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the global use of medical cannabis.
“The Russian public should know, and the Russian court in the first place should know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor,” attorney Boykov said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in parts of the United States has no bearing on what happens in Russia.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in the second hearing of her trial, which began July 1. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs. The medical testimony and Griner’s admission that she had the cartridges was intended to earn her a light sentence.
“We have a lot of mitigating factors. We therefore hope that the court will take this into account. And the Russian courts actually have a very wide discretion when it comes to sentencing,” said Maria Blagovolina, another Griner attorney.
Five hearings have taken place so far, some lasting only about an hour. After Tuesday’s session of approximately 90 minutes, the matter was adjourned until Wednesday afternoon.
It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until December 20.
The slow trial and Griner’s five-month detention drew sharp criticism from teammates and supporters in the United States, who officially declared her “wrongfully detained”, a designation strongly rejected by Russian officials.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US Embassy, attended Tuesday’s hearing. Griner “confirms that she is doing well and as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Rood told reporters.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired a brief producer interview with Griner in which she wished his wife, Cherelle, “good luck on the bar exam.”
When asked if she had any complaints, Griner replied, “No, no complaints. I just wait patiently. She posted photos of his wife, friends and teammates.
Griner was arrested in February amid heightened 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. Last week, the famous American footballer Megan Rapinoe said “she is being held as a political prisoner, obviously”.
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the US claim that Griner was being wrongfully detained and said Russian laws must be obeyed.
“If an American citizen has been caught smuggling drugs, and she doesn’t deny it, it should be commensurate with our local Russian laws, not those passed in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“If drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and it has been done for a long time and now the whole country is going to become addicted, that does not mean that all other countries are following the same path” , he added. she added.
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped for prominent Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, could also feature in an exchange.
U.S. officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials said no trade could be discussed until the legal proceedings against Griner are concluded.
Previous tryouts have included character testimonials from the manager and captain of the Russian team Griner played for in the offseason, and written testimonials such as the letter from the American doctor saying he had it. authorized to use cannabis for the treatment of pain.
Jim Heintz, Associated Press