KHIMKI, Russia — An attorney for WNBA star Brittney Griner presented a letter from a U.S. doctor recommending that she use medicinal cannabis to treat pain in court at her drug possession trial in Russia on Friday.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and standout for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after customs officers said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. If convicted of drug trafficking, she faces up to ten years in prison.
In court last week, Griner pleaded guilty and admitted to possessing the canisters, but said she had no criminal intentions and said they were in her luggage because she packed hastily when she returned to Russia to travel during the off-season of the Playing WNBA for the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team.
In the Russian judicial system, a trial does not automatically end with an admission of guilt. Since that plea, her court sessions have focused on personal and written testimonies of her good character and athletic ability.
“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medicinal cannabis,” said her attorney, Maria Blagovolina. “The approval was granted on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.”
The defense also on Friday filed tests it underwent as part of an anti-doping check that found no prohibited substances in its system.
The next hearing on Griner’s case was scheduled for July 26.
US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said they are doing everything they can to secure their release, as well as those of other Americans the US considers “wrongly imprisoned” by Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan, who 16 serves years sentence for espionage.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock sent a letter to Blinken on Friday seeking answers to several questions about Griner’s situation.
“Which option are you considering in ongoing negotiations?” Warnock asked. “Can you make sure Brittney is not held in custody during the trial? Do you have any indication of what the Russian government would accept in return for their release?
“I recognize the complexity of the current situation, but Brittney Griner cannot become a victim of geopolitical events and autocratic wars. I urge you to conduct expeditious negotiations to secure her immediate release.”
However, Washington could have little leverage over Moscow due to strong hostility over its military operation in Ukraine.
“In the hearings yesterday and today, it was very clear how much respect and admiration both in the United States and here in Russia, where Miss Griner has played basketball for the past seven years, not only for her professional achievements but also for her character and integrity US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood said outside the courthouse in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the airport is located.
The director and team captain of UMMC Ekaterinburg testified on her behalf on Thursday.
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Dealer of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US after being convicted of conspiring to murder US citizens and provide aid to one Terrorists had been convicted organization.
Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy in the seriousness of their cases could make such a deal unpalatable to Washington. Others have suggested Griner could be traded alongside Whelan, who is serving 16 years in Russia on a spy conviction the US has described as a trap.
The State Department’s designation of Griner as a wrongfully imprisoned puts her case under the oversight of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator. The classification irritated Russia.
Asked whether Griner could be swapped out for a Russian jailed in the US, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until the end of their trial, “there are no formal or procedural grounds to discuss any further steps.” speak. “
Ryabkov warned that US criticism, including describing Griner as wrongly imprisoned and derogatory comments about Russia’s judicial system, “makes it difficult to engage in a detailed discussion of a possible replacement.”
Griner’s detention was granted until December 20, suggesting the process could take months. However, Griner’s attorneys said they expect to close in early August.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.