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Brittney Griner, an American basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team, was detained this past February at a Russian airport after Russian officials claimed they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil (or hash oil) in her luggage. Now, Russian state news agencies are reporting that her detention has been extended to May, according to NBC.
Why Was Brittney Griner in Russia?
Griner flew to Russia to play on the UMMC Ekaterinburg team. The 31-year-old has been a member of the Russian basketball team for several WNBA off-seasons. But this particular trip came at a tense time; Griner was detained shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine. The US State Department had issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory weeks earlier, citing the ongoing tension.
The two-time Olympian might have chosen to play overseas during this off-season for many different reasons — including to earn some extra cash. WNBA players typically earn between $60,000 and $229,000, while NBA players can earn upwards of $40 million. According to an Associated Press report, “half of the WNBA’s 144 players” went overseas during the 2022 off-season, with high-ranking athletes earning more than $1 million. WNBA athlete Liz Cambage said on NBA Today that she is able to earn “five to eight times more” by playing overseas.
When Will Brittney Griner Be Released?
NBC reported that the basketball player’s detention was extended until May, citing the Russian state news agency TASS. “The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of detention of U.S. citizen [Griner] until May 19,” TASS said, according to NBC.
Griner’s detention comes amid US sanctions against Russia. Texas congressman Joaquin Castro deemed Russia’s decision to detain the athlete to be a political move, tweeting, “I’m closely monitoring reports of Texan @brittneygriner‘s detention in Russia. This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens . . . US citizens are not political pawns.”
According to “E! News,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, released a statement to the publication regarding her plan to get Griner home safely. Colas said, “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 of right now, Griner is reportedly sharing a cell with two inmates who “had no previous convictions and are charged with drug-related articles,” according to Ekaterina Kalugina, a member of Public Monitoring Commission, per NBC.
What Is Hash Oil?
Hash oil is extracted from cannabis, an illegal substance in Russia. Under Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, someone who commits an offense related to the “illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, making or processing of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or analogues thereof” could face up to 10 years in prison.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones