The legal defense team for American basketball star Brittney Griner argued in a Russian court on Tuesday that their client had been using cannabis to treat pain, according to the Associated Press.
Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February during the lead-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine. This month, she pleaded guilty to bringing vape canisters containing cannabis oil into Russia. The Phoenix Mercury center could face up to 10 years in prison when sentenced.
Griner, who has remained in detention since her arrest, recently wrote a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden. In it, she said, “I’m terrified I might be here forever.” The White House has said it believes Russia is wrongfully detaining the WNBA player and is working on securing her release.
On Tuesday, her defense team argued for leniency. They said Griner had not knowingly smuggled drugs into the country but packed the vape canisters accidentally. They also called on a narcology expert who testified that in some countries medical cannabis is widely used by athletes for treating injuries. (Medical marijuana is illegal in Russia.)
“We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine. We are still saying that she involuntarily brought it here because she was in a rush,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said, according to AP. “The Russian public has to know, and the Russian court in the first place has to know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor.”
“With the prescription in place, Brittney may have used it for medical, but not for recreational purposes,” Maria Blagovolina, another one of Griner’s lawyers, said during the hearing, according to Reuters.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, has previously rejected arguments that Griner shouldn’t face the consequences of breaking Russia’s drug laws.
“If an American citizen was detained on drug trafficking charges and she does not deny it herself, then this should correspond to Russian legislation, and not to the laws adopted in San Francisco,” Zakharova said last week.
In footage shared on the Telegram channel for the Russia state media outlet Zvezda, Griner can be seen escorted into the courtroom on Tuesday by a group of police officers before she stood in a metal cage. The two-time Olympic champion held photographs of friends and family and wore a sweatshirt with “Black Lives For Peace” on the back.
Many people have argued that Griner is being held as a political prisoner, and there has been talk that the White House could work out a deal that involves an exchange of a Russian imprisoned in the U.S. for Griner.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry and Griner’s defense team for comment.