Brittney Griner Testifies That She Packed Vape Cartridges Accidentally in Russian Drug Trial

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RUSSIA-US-DIPLOMACY-BASKET-COURT - Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP/Getty Images
RUSSIA-US-DIPLOMACY-BASKET-COURT - Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Brittney Griner finally took the stand in Russia Wednesday, July 27, explaining how she accidentally packed cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage and claiming she received inadequate translation from an interpreter following her arrest in February, according to The Associated Press. 

Griner has already pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil into Russia, and if convicted she could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. She previously told the court that she did bring the vape cartridges into Russia, but continued to insist that she had no criminal intent and that the cartridges wound up in her luggage accidentally. 

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While testifying Wednesday, Griner — who plays basketball in Russia during the WNBA off-season — described frantically packing for her 13-hour flight from Arizona to Moscow while still recovering from Covid-19. She said she did not know how the vape cartridges ended up in her bag, but stated she was packing quickly while under immense stress. 

After the cartridges were found following her arrival in Moscow on Feb. 17, Griner said she was paired with an interpreter, whom she claimed did not adequately explain to her what was going on. Griner said she did not get an explanation of her rights, nor access to a lawyer, and stated she was told to sign various documents without being told what they said or implied. 

Griner said she sat through even more proceedings she didn’t understand until finally she was able to give her belongings to a lawyer. After that, she was taken away in handcuffs. It was only at her first hearing a couple days later on Feb. 19 that Griner said she heard some kind of translation of the allegations against her. 

The court also heard testimony about medical marijuana from both Griner and a Russian neuropsychologist. Griner noted that she used cannabis oil to help ease the pain from injuries she’d sustained throughout her career, noting that the side effects are often less severe than other pain killers. Griner’s defense team also submitted a letter from her doctor in the U.S. recommending she use medical marijuana as a way to treat her pain. Meanwhile, the Russian doctor testified about the use of medical marijuana around the world (it remains illegal in Russia). 

On Tuesday, Griner spoke with U.S. Embassy staff before the trial resumed, per Washington Post, and held up a photo from inside a defendant’s cage. In a brief conversation with ABC News, Griner said she has “no complaints” and is “waiting patiently” to return home.

During Tuesday’s hour-long hearing, the defense team argued that the cannabis oil found in her luggage was for medicinal purposes and not recreational. They called narcologist Mikhail Tetyushkin to testify on her behalf, who said that “medical cannabis is a popular treatment specifically among athletes” in many countries outside Russia. Griner’s lawyers also presented evidence that Griner tested negative for marijuana.

When the hearing ended, one of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, reiterated that Griner used cannabis oil for medicinal purposes and that they had previously shown the court medical certificates demonstrating that she suffers from chronic pain.

Blogovolina said Tetyushkin “explained that in various countries — namely in the U.S. — medical cannabis is a popular treatment specifically among athletes.”

Blagovolina added, “Thus, with the prescription in place, Brittney may have used it for medical but not recreational purposes.”

Griner’s other lawyer, Alexander Boikov, said the defense is not arguing about whether Griner had the right to bring the cannabis oil into Russia. “We will continue to insist that she was in a hurry when she packed her baggage and did not notice that substances banned in Russia ended up in her suitcase,” he said. “We insist that she had no intent.”

This story was updated July 27 at 10:26 a.m. ET with details from Griner’s testimony.

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