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Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner testifies as Biden considers trading Russian prisoner to free her



The President is reportedly open to releasing an imprisoned Russian arms dealer to bring the WNBA star home.

Brittney Griner testified in Russian court today (July 27) to defend herself against allegations that she smuggled drugs into the country. The WNBA star and US Olympian has been in Russian custody since February 17, when officials allegedly found cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremtyevo airport.

Earlier this month, Griner pled guilty and said she accidentally threw the cannabis oil in her bag while rushing to pack. She faces up to ten years in Russian prison for the charges. Her trial was adjourned because scheduled witnesses no-showed. Proceedings are back underway, but the trial could last until December.

Here’s what Griner told the court today

Brittney Griner deserves support—but so do the 350,000 Americans arrested for cannabis possession every year. (Illustration: Sasha Beck / Leafly, with AP Photo / Chase Stevens)

Griner testified Wednesday that she never intended to bring cannabis into the country and still does not know how it got into her luggage. Griner also said she’s been prescribed medical marijuana to treat a knee injury. She was in Russia to play in a professional league during the WNBA offseason.

Griner told the court she did not understand documents she was pressured to sign by Russian officials after her arrest. She also said she did not have a lawyer when first detained and that she had to use Google Translate to seek an understanding of the documents.

Her defense lawyers argue that her rights were violated. Under Russian law, they say, Griner should have been told what she was suspected of doing. She also should have been given access to a defense attorney immediately, before being interrogated.

US Olympian Brittney Griner (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
US Olympian Brittney Griner (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Her attorney, Alexander Boykov, said Wednesday that Griner’s detention, search and arrest were “improper.” He plans to elaborate in the coming weeks during the trial’s closing arguments.

In court today, Griner’s legal team “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them,” according to her other lawyer, Maria Blagovolina. Griner also told the court that she considers Ekaterinburg, Russia, a second home.

Tuesday, the defense called a narcologist to give expert testimony about how cannabis is used medically outside of Russia.

Biden open to trading Russian criminal for WNBA star

President Joe Biden said ‘no one should be in prison for marijuana’ after returning to the White House last weekend. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Brittney’s wife, Cherrelle Griner, earlier this month to show their support. Cherelle Griner was “grateful” for the call, but said she will “remain concerned and outspoken” until her wife is free to come home. Griner was classified as wrongfully detained by Biden officials.

The Department of Justice mostly avoids prisoner trades. But Biden has the power to override their wishes. One common concern is that swaps incentivize countries to target Americans and use them as bargaining chips.

The Biden administration debated for months before agreeing to offer Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer sentenced to 25-year in US prison. The deal aimed to free Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who is being held on espionage charges.

CNN reports that an offer for Griner and Whelan was made in June. “We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” one official told CNN.

Earlier this year, the US negotiated the release of Trevor Reed, a former Marine who was held in Russia for over two years. Reed was traded for a Russian pilot who was a 20 years for cocaine smuggling. 

But just because Biden is open to offering Russian convicts to free Americans, that doesn’t mean Russia will accept the deal.

A senior Russian diplomat said “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps,” until Griner’s trial is over.

Yesterday, an American teacher named Marc Fogel was sentenced to 14 years for traveling into Russia with cannabis. While Fogel was caught with more weed than Griner (roughly 20 grams), his family is waiting for the US to declare him wrongfully detained.

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Brittney Griner

The Roll-up #252: No one should be in prison for weed




In this episode: Brittney Griner and how no one should be in prison for weed and strains to smoke according to the universe! 

NOTE: This episode was recorded on Wednesday, Aug 3, 2022. Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison on Aug 4, 2022. 

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Theme music: English and Guitar by Hollow Bodies
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The Roll-Up: Leafly’s weekly cannabis news and culture podcast

Every Friday the Roll-Up crew—Bruce Barcott, Alyssa Yeoman, and Hannah Staton—dissect the week’s top cannabis stories and take a deep dive into a single issue. It’s a news and culture podcast, slightly elevated.

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Got feedback? Bring it: Want more? Hit us up on Twitter: @therollup.

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Brittney Griner

The (Possibly) Best and Worst Countries To Get Caught With Pot




By Andrew Ward

Returning to world travel and current events has recently brought cannabis travel back into the spotlight. People are traveling again despite ongoing COVID-19 worries and increasing Moneypox cases.

At the same time, the 9-year sentence of WNBA star Brittney Griner in a Russian court for two cannabis cartridges sparked outrage and worries about traveling with pot.

Griner’s case closely resembles Marc Fogel’s, who was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison in June. Fogel was found in possession of less than one ounce of medical cannabis at a Russian airport. He claimed to be unaware that medical cannabis was illegal in the country.

No matter the person or country, it’s wise to be aware of the local cannabis laws and the nation’s approach to policing, even as cannabis acceptance grows.

The World Warming On Weed

A September 2021 global cannabis growth report released by New Frontier Data found that 70 countries have legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form.

In North America, Canada has approved adult use, the United States has state-by-state legality and Mexico’s Supreme Court legalized cannabis, but a marketplace hasn’t been established. Meanwhile, the Caribbean is starting to see its first signs of access to medical reform.

South America has seen a wave of reform, with various nations allowing low- or high-potency medical access. Several countries in central and northern South America and Central America prohibit cannabis in all forms.

marijuana arrest
Photo by Tetiana Strilchuk/Getty Images

Africa remains largely prohibitive of cannabis. However, a handful of nations have legalized low-THC medical access. Like Mexico, South Africa’s court legalized cannabis, but a marketplace has not been established.

RELATED: DEA Reports Uptick In Marijuana-Related Seizures & Arrests: Why Is This Happening? NORML Has An Idea

Most of Oceania remains opposed to cannabis in all forms. However, a few nations and US island territories have taken action on medical or adult use. Australia and New Zealand have medical cannabis laws, with the latter losing a narrow adult use ballot initiative in 2020.

Asia and Eurasia collectively remain the strictest block of land on cannabis. So far, only a few southern counties and South Korea have legalized low-THC medical use.

Countries like India allow exceptions, such as allowing the consumption of cannabis leaves for the traditional edible bhang. Other parts of the world, including Jamaica and Pakistan, have legalized or tolerate cannabis among various religious and tribal groups.

The Worst Nations To Get Caught With Pot

The topic is a bit more nuanced than it may seem at first glance. Depending on the criteria, a person can pinpoint various nations as the best and worst for pot possession.

Global possession laws vary, as do opinions on the best and worst places to get nabbed.

In Iran, offenders can be lashed or face a death sentence depending on the kilograms. Contrasting reports in recent years have claimed the nation has removed the death penalty for cannabis, while others claim executions have continued.

RELATED: Joe Rogan: ‘No One Should Be In Jail For Weed,’ Calls Brittney Griner’s Russian Imprisonment ‘Horrific’

Like Iran, several nations, including Singapore and Saudi Arabia, use lashings as punishment. Malaysia, North Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Taiwan and other regional nations are also reported to execute offenders.

Death and long sentences aren’t the only parameters worth considering. Even short stints in harsh prisons can result in severe punishment.

Depending on the nation and facility, a person may be exposed to high levels of violence, overcrowding, hunger and other adverse health risks. Some court systems are so backed up that people can be detained pretrial for years while awaiting their day in court.

marijuana arrest
Photo by Dmitriy83/Getty Images

The Best Countries To Get Caught With Pot?

Nowhere is the honest answer. But if push came to shove, there are nations with friendlier regulations and prisons for cannabis possession offenses.

The best place to get popped is in a legalized or decriminalized nation where people can avoid prosecution, save for a possible fine. Uruguay and Canada, the two countries to legalize adult use, top the list.

Countries or parts of countries have taken measures to decriminalize the plant. As of August 5, 2022, the following have decriminalized or allowed possession through similar legislation:

  1. Antigua and Barbuda
  2. Argentina
  3. Australia
  4. Austria
  5. Belgium
  6. Belize
  7. Bermuda
  8. Bolivia
  9. Chile
  10. Colombia
  11. Costa Rica
  12. Croatia
  13. Czech Republic
  14. Dominica
  15. Ecuador
  16. Estonia
  17. Georgia
  18. Israel
  19. Italy
  20. Jamaica
  21. Luxembourg
  22. Moldova
  23. Mexico
  24. Netherlands
  25. Paraguay
  26. Peru
  27. Portugal
  28. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  29. Saint Lucia
  30. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  31. Slovenia
  32. South Africa
  33. Spain
  34. Switzerland
  35. Thailand
  36. Trinidad and Tobago

Several additional nations are reported to ban the plant but don’t enforce the law. In rarer cases, autonomous zones, like Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark, are allowed to sell, possess and consume cannabis.

What About The United States?

The United States presents an interesting state-by-state approach to cannabis laws and sentencing.

As many noted in recent years, the growing legal status of the plant appears to conflict with America’s ongoing imprisonment of individuals for cannabis offenses.

RELATED: Federal Arrests For Marijuana Have Declined As More States Legalize It

It is estimated that over 40,000 individuals are in state or federal prison for cannabis-related charges and that people continue to be arrested on new cases. Others have suggested the figure is closer to 31,000 as arrests decline in recent years.

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.

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Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison for drug possession and smuggling




The WNBA star can appeal, but a prisoner swap now appears to be her best shot at freedom

A Moscow court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9½-years in prison Thursday (August 4). Griner pleaded guilty last month, hoping for leniency in sentencing on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

“I understand everything that’s being said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty,” Griner told the judge through an interpreter. “I had no intent to break any Russian laws,” she added.

The US Olympian was distraught as she apologized to the court and insisted she made “an honest mistake” while packing in haste. ESPN reports that Griner “reacted to the sentence with little emotion, listening to the verdict with a blank stare on her face.”

Griner also apologized to her teammates, fans and the entire city of Ekaterinburg, where she was traveling to play for the summer.

“I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population,” she said. “I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”

How we got here

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremtyevo airport reportedly found cannabis oil cartridges in Griner’s luggage back on February 17. She was entering the country to play for a Russian pro league, which she has participated in since 2014 during the WNBA offseason.

Griner’s trial has made political waves thanks to the tension between Russia and the US after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, exactly a week after Griner’s arrest.

Griner acknowledged the politics at play in her case, saying: “I know that everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom.”

Judge Anna Sotnikova only took a few hours to deliberate the verdict after hearing the evidence and Griner’s final plea for mercy. Griner was also sentenced to pay 1 million rubles ($16,590) as a fine for the violation.

Griner has the right to appeal, but experts say a prisoner trade is now the most likely outcome. Russian officials have said that Russian law forbids the country from considering a deal until after sentencing.

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