On Thursday, August 4, a Russian court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to over nine years in prison after the verdict found that she violated Russia's cannabis possession law. The court found her guilty as she brought two vape cartridges with cannabis content into the country back in February. A report by Russian news agency TASS states:
"Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022, at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Ms. Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams."
Griner was arrested after the vape cartridges were found in her luggage and was charged by the Russian authorities for smuggling drugs. As of now, she has been detained in Russia for over 168 days.
Following the sentencing, the White House released a statement from US President Joe Biden. In the statement, Biden said:
"It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."
Exploring Brittney Griner's charges over bringing two cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia
Hash oil or any cannabis-content product is illegal in Russia. If the product contains less than six grams of cannabis or two grams of hash, the possessor can face imprisonment of up to 15 days and a fine, if proven guilty. Furthermore, possessing anything beyond the aforementioned limit is treated as a severe criminal offense in the country.
However, Brittney Griner was charged with the intention of smuggling drugs, which is what led to her sentence of over nine years in prison. According to Drug Policy Facts, possession of drugs beyond "0.5 grams of heroin, opium or desomorphine" is generally considered a criminal offense and can lead to up to 10 years of imprisonment.
Previously, the US basketball star pleaded guilty to the charges as her attorneys hoped that the court would be considerate while sentencing her. At the time, Brittney Griner revealed that she had packed her luggage in a hurry, and it was "an honest mistake." She further said:
"I did not think of or plan to bring banned substances into Russia."
After the verdict, which sentenced her to 9.5 years in a Russian prison, Brittney Griner's lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov, told PEOPLE that the sentence was "absolutely unreasonable."
While Russia maintains that no political influence was involved in Griner's detention and sentencing, it has led to speculation that Griner possessed less than a gram of oil and cannabis content in the cartridges. However, the WNBA player was sentenced to just shy of ten years in prison, which is the maximum sentence for violation of drug smuggling rules in Russia.
Furthermore, even US President Joe Biden insinuated that he believes Russia's sentencing was politically charged. In his statement from the White House, Biden said:
"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."
In late July, CNN reported that the US government had offered Russia a prisoner-exchange deal to bring back Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. As per reports, the US would exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the proposed arrangement. It remains to be seen whether the Russian government will agree to this deal.