Brittney Griner Gets 9 Years in Russian Prison for Cannabis Oil, Smuggling

The Phoenix Mercury center pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling but asked for leniency, saying didn’t mean to break the law

A Russian court sentenced WNBA star and two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner to nine years in prison, finding her guilty of cannabis possession and smuggling. At the Kimki court outside Moscow, Griner showed no reaction upon hearing the verdict. Her lawyers said she was later “very upset,” the Associated Press reports.

Defense attorney Maria Blagovolina told reporters that Griner was “very upset, very stressed. She can hardly talk. It’s a difficult time for her.”

Griner was also fined 1 million rubles (about $16,700). Her sentence of nine years was just a year shy of the maximum sentence of 10 years, although her lawyers said that most Russians caught with small amounts of drugs get a sentence of no more than five years.

During Thursday’s hearing, Griner, 31, acknowledged her “honest mistake” and asked for leniency.

“I want the court to understand that this was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back to my team,” Griner said, according to the New York Post. Griner says she accidentally packed her vape cartridges in her luggage while packing in a hurry en route to Russia last February—an oversight that got her arrested and detained. Her lawyers introduced as evidence written testimony from Griner’s doctor saying he prescribed her cannabis for pain.

“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” she continued. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, saying that she did not mean to break Russian law.

“I love my family,” Griner said as she was led out of court.

The White House released a statement just minutes after the verdict was handed down on behalf of President Biden.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” the statement read. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

Biden promised to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on an espionage conviction, back home “as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires Elizabeth Rood called the verdict “a miscarriage of justice,” according to AP.

Griner has been detained since February 17, since cannabis oil cartridges were found in her luggage at a Russian airport. She was entering the country to play basketball, where she has competed since 2014.

As recently as last week, the United States went out of their way to get Griner out of Russia by means of a prisoner exchange, offering imprisoned arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,”  for Griner.

However, according to the New York Post, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that Russia responded in “bad faith”  to the U.S. government’s offer.

Griner’s lawyers say a prisoner exchange is now off the table. However, Griner has 10 days to appeal. She could also ask for a pardon from Vladimir Putin.

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