US

US basketball star’s lawyers tell Russian court she was prescribed medical cannabis

A US basketball star facing up to 10 years in a Russian jail on drug charges was prescribed medical cannabis for a chronic injury, her lawyers have said.

Brittney Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport on 17 February after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

On Friday, lawyers defending the two-time Olympic gold winner told the court that the Phoenix Mercury player was prescribed medical cannabis in the US for a chronic injury in 2020.

Her defence team submitted documents to support her case that she did not intend to bring drugs into Russia illegally in the hopes of securing a more lenient sentence.

In them, they said Griner suffered from chronic pain and that she had a permit issued in the state of Arizona for the use of medical cannabis.

The star was escorted before a court hearing wearing a yellow Nirvana t-shirt in the Moscow suburb of Khimki.

She has already pleaded guilty to drugs charges that could land her a prison sentence of up to a decade.

On Thursday, a Russian basketball club director gave evidence in support of Griner, speaking of her “outstanding ability” and “personal contribution to strengthening team spirit”.

Team captain Evgeniya Belyakova also testified in her defence.

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Who is Brittney Griner?

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, is escorted before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, July, 15, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

No ‘intent’ to commit crime

Previously during the trial, Griner told the court she had no “intent” to break the law, which lawyers hope means she will receive the most lenient sentence possible.

Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and acquittals can be overturned.

Griner’s case comes at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US has categorised her as “a wrongful detainee”, with figures including President Joe Biden calling for her release, while Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has said she is being used as “a political pawn”.

Since Griner’s detention, a senior Russian diplomat said no action could be taken until the trial has concluded.

The Kremlin has downplayed the idea of a prisoner exchange, saying it is premature to discuss the possibility of swapping Griner for a Russian imprisoned in the US.

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