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WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia on drug trafficking charges after hashish oil was discovered in her luggage by customs officials.
Phoenix Mercury star and WNBA icon Brittney Griner was detained in Russia on Saturday after customs officials discovered what they determined to be an illegal drug in her luggage.
According to the New York Times, Russian officials took Griner into custody after hashish oil was discovered among her belongings.
Making matters even more troubling is the fact that it appears Griner was detained back in February, despite news of the incident reaching the States on Saturday. It’s unclear how long she’s been in custody as no official date of detainment was given.
While cannabis is legal in certain parts of Europe and the United States, where Griner plays professionally both during the WNBA season and its offseason, the charge Griner is facing carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Here’s everything we know. Please note that this is an ongoing situation and this will be updated with new information as it becomes available.
Why was Brittney Griner detained in Russia?
Due to a number of factors, including the low wages and salaries offered to WNBA players by the league, many players spend the offseason playing overseas in foreign leagues. Griner has been playing for BC UMMC Ekaterinburg, a professional women’s basketball team in Russia, since 20014. However, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, U.S. citizens have been working to leave the country and return home.
On Saturday, the State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory due to the belief that any American citizens still in the country could be subjected to “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials”.
Griner’s detainment was revealed not long after this advisory was handed down.
The reason for her detainment reportedly stems from hashish oil being discovered among vaping paraphernalia found in luggage that Griner was attempting to travel out of the country with.
Despite not naming her in the initial report, footage of a person who appears to be Griner entering customs was released by Russian officials on Saturday.
What is hashish oil?
The simplest way to explain hashish oil — also simply called hash oil — is that it’s a form of cannabis. Hash oil is exactly what it sounds like it is, an essential oil mixture extracted from cannabis to form a concentrate that can be consumed using a vape pen.
More specifically, hashish oil contains tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, and other cannabinoids — otherwise known as the good stuff (or, depending on how well you know your Vine’s, the good kush).
Cannabis and concentrations of cannabis are legal in many parts of Europe, as well as in many parts of the United States. That Griner was carrying hashish oil shouldn’t be seen as the way it’s being described by Russian officials. Tacking on a charge of drug trafficking elicits a very visceral image of transporting illegal narcotics, pr more traditionally illegal narcotics in the United States.
This doesn’t appear to be a Miami Vice Cocaine Cowboys situation where Griner was attempting to move large quantities of an illegal drug between countries. She simply had some hash oil that she smokes with her vape pen, something millions of people across the world do every day.
Was Brittney Griner arrested?
The official categorization for what has happened to Griner is that she’s been detained by Russian officials, not arrested. That’s a very important distinction given the potential for an international incident that involves an American citizen, and one as prominent as Griner.
It’s unclear where in the legal process the situation is, but Griner’s agent and representatives from the WNBA are reportedly in contact with her. There’s hope that this situation irons itself out, but should things go sideways the maximum sentence that Griner faces for the charges that come with drug trafficking is 10 years in prison.
WNBA gives a statement on Brittney Griner situation in Russia
While brief, the WNBA gave a statement to ESPN in which it said it was throwing the entire support of the league behind the star player.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league said in a statement to ESPN.
The WNBPA, which represents the players, released a statement on Griner’s detainment on Saturday afternoon:
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, gave a statement to ESPN stating that she is still in contact and they are working on finding a resolution to the matter.
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
Brittney Griner WNBA salary
Griner’s salary with the WNBA is a critically important subplot to this entire incident. Just about every WNBA player, whether a first-year player or a global superstar like Griner, are underpaid to the point where they often take on work in the offseason.
This typically involves playing overseas in Asian and European basketball leagues, which is what Griner was doing in Russia.
Griner has been a prominent face of women’s basketball for the better part of a decade, from her time dominating college basketball with Baylor to her rise as a face of the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury.
Despite this, Griner is making less than $1 million in a three-year contract with the Mercury.
The enormous wage gap and insulting pay disparity between NBA and WNBA players have been the subject of intense criticism recently, especially given the growth of the WNBA over the last few seasons. Griner, who is among the very best basketball players not just in her league but in the known universe, needing to take on offseason work has seemingly now put her in a dangerous situation far beyond her or the WNBA’s control.