MOSCOW- ABC News reports that WNBA player Britney Griner, undergoing trial in Russia for drug possession, saw her lawyer produce a letter from a U.S. doctor in which he recommended she use medical marijuana to treat pain.
Griner, a two-time Olympic god medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury of the women’s basketball league was arrested in February at Moscow’s international airport, after Russian customs officials found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
If convicted, Griner could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison for charges of transporting drugs.
Griner pleaded guilty last week and admitted to possessing the canisters, however told the court she had no criminal intent in transporting the canisters but merely had been in a rush while packing for her return to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball during the WNBA’s offseason.
Unlike the United States, entering a guilty plea in Russia doesn’t automatically signal the end to a trial. Since she entered that plea, the court hearings have centered around matters such as her character and athletic abilities, gained through in-person and written testimony, ABC said.
Griner was seen wearing a Nirvana t-shirt while sitting inside the defendant’s cage, which is a customary practice in the former Soviet Union. At one point Griner held up a photo with fellow WNBA players wearing her name and number 42 on their uniforms, done in a tribute during a portion of Sunday’s All-Star Game in Chicago.
During trial, Griner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina told the court Griner had been prescribed medical marijuana for her condition.
“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis,’ Blagovolina said. “The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.”
That may be well and good in the United States, however medical marijuana is illegal in Russia.
On Friday, Griner’s defense submitted tests she took as part of an anti-doping check, tests which did not detect any prohibited substances in her system. Her next hearing is currently scheduled for July 26.
Joe Biden, along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, claim they are doing all they can to secure Griner’s release, along with a number of other Americans currently being detained in Russia. That number includes former Marine Paul Whelan, serving a 16-year term after being convicted of espionage.
The issue is, currently the United States is embroiled in a war of words, if not a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. There is significant animosity between the sides, and Russian President Vladimir Putin does not seem to be in a charitable mood at the moment.
“In the hearings yesterday and today, what became very clear is the tremendous amount of respect and admiration, both in the United States and here in Russia where Miss Griner has been playing basketball for seven years,” said U.S. Embassy charge d’affaires Elizabeth Rood, speaking outside the courthouse in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the city’s airport is located. She also noted Griner was recognized “not only for her professional achievements but for her character and integrity.”
On Thursday, the director and team captain of UMMC Ekaterinburg testified on behalf of Griner.
Some Russian media outlets have expressed the belief Griner could be swapped for a Russian arms trader, Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” currently serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. Bout was sentence relative to a conspiracy to kill American citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. One might think swapping such a high profile prisoner for a basketball player doesn’t equate to an even trade and that perhaps Whelan’s release would make more sense.
Russia has been attempting to gain Bout’s release for years, however as noted above, such a trade may prove unsavory for the United States. Then again, Biden has a history of making foreign policy blunders so it wouldn’t be out of the question that such an arrangement might be approved.
Some have suggested that both Whelan and Griner could be swapped for Bout. That would seem to make the most sense, but then again, expecting Biden to employ common sense might prove to be a bridge to far.
The State Department has elevated Griner’s case to the designation of being “wrongfully detained, which moves her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, in essence the government’s chief hostage negotiator. That designation has angered Russia.
When asked about Griner being swapped for a Russian held in U.S. jails, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat outright dismissed that possibility, noting that since Griner’s trial was effectively over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”
Ryabkov also warned that criticism coming from the U.S., including the designation of being wrongfully detained, as well as dismissive comments about the Russian judicial process “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussion of any possible exchanges.”
At the moment, Griner’s detention has been authorized through Dec. 20, which would seem to suggest the trial could last for months. To the contrary however, Griner’s lawyers believe it should be wrapped up around the beginning of August.
ICYMI, the NBA’s resident America-hating loudmouth, LeBron James had a lot to say to Brittney Griner. For more on that:
For those who have been following, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia after allegedly having banned hash oil when stopped at an airport.
She was arrested months prior and on Thursday, July 7th, she entered a guilty plea. During the court hearing, she said:
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor, but there was not intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
Her next court date is scheduled for July 14th and depending on the outcome, she could face up to a decade in a Russian prison.
Now, LeBron James, an NBA star with the Los Angeles Lakers, is putting his two cents in, stating that Griner has every right to not even want to return to the U.S.
After being in custody for several months, James said that if he was in her shoes, he might not even want to return to America. In an upcoming promo for “The Shop,” LeBron said:
“Now, how can she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?'”
It seems that his comments, which you can watch below in the trailer, have people wondering what on earth he is saying or if he is just looking for attention.
David Hookstead, in an op-ed with the Daily Caller, wrote:
“Of all the insane things LeBron James has ever said, this is right near the top of the list. Is LeBron actually this dumb or is he just saying things looking for attention?
He thinks she’d be justified in not wanting to return because we haven’t gotten her out yet? Insane. Legit insane. It’s not like the American military can just fly to the jail she’s being held at, kill the guards and fly out with her.”
“This is Russia we’re talking about! Like it or not, it’s a nuclear-armed nation and it is an enemy of America. It’s not like Biden can just pick up the phone and demand her release. It doesn’t work like that.”
— Mitch Weiner (@MitchWeiner1971) July 13, 2022
After the blow-up of the trailer comments, James later took to Twitter to clarify what he said:
“My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome.”
This not the first time LeBron has commented on Griner’s unfortunate situation. In June, he demanded action from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to bring the WNBA star back to the United States. He tweeted:
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together.”
In a separate June post, LeBron shared a message “demanding” Biden and Harris bring Griner home “swiftly and safely” by taking immediate action. The post said:
“As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
LeBron James seems to wonder if fellow basketball star Brittney Griner will want to live in the U.S. again if she’s released from the Russian prison she currently calls home. https://t.co/CfuBt4VMxA
— Napa Register Sports (@NVR_Sports) July 13, 2022
The post added:
“Join us in demanding that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris bring Brittney home swiftly and safely by taking action today.”
Interestingly, Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard wondered if Griner’s situation in Russia would have been resolved already if it were James, not Griner that was detained. She said:
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it and so that’s what hurts a little more.”
Griner has been detained since February 7th and could see 10 years in prison on drug smuggling charges.
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