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WNBA star Brittney Griner had prescription for cannabis, defense argues at trial in Russia

Brittney Griner, pictured here during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, appeared in court on Tuesday in Moscow as part of her drug trial. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/2348cafa8a2c10454fb70285795b8296/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Brittney Griner, pictured here during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, appeared in court on Tuesday in Moscow as part of her drug trial. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

July 26 (UPI) -- Lawyers for Brittney Griner called a medical expert during a Tuesday hearing in Russia and the American women's basketball star -- who's been jailed there since February on drug charges -- made a brief appearance.

At the hearing at the Khimki court in Moscow, Griner's legal team is forming a strategy to win the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury star's release after she pleaded guilty earlier this month to possessing less than a gram of cannabis in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February.

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Griner, who's played professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA off-season, has said that she was in a rush and packed vaping cartridges containing hashish oil by accident. Russian prosecutors say the offense is serious and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

During Tuesday's hearing, Griner's team heard testimony from medical experts who said that cannabis has legitimate medical uses in other countries. They noted that Griner was prescribed hashish oil for treatment of "severe chronic pain."

The substance, however, is illegal in Russia and Griner pleaded guilty to the charge early this month in a bid for leniency. In Russia, criminal trials proceed even if a defendant pleads guilty. Griner had been told that nearly 100% of defendants in Russia are convicted of charges against them.

Griner is expected back in court on Wednesday to answer questions under cross-examination.

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Diplomatic experts say Griner could become part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, but that an admission of guilt and her ultimate conviction would be necessary in that equation.

At a July 15 hearing, Griner's lawyers asked the court for more time to prepare for trial, which is expected to last through early next month.

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Several weeks ago, the U.S. State Department declared that Griner has been "wrongfully detained" -- a move that allows the U.S. government to seek more aggressive options in getting Americans released abroad. Griner and her family have appealed to President Joe Biden to work toward her release.

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