Brittney Griner, WNBA star and Phoenix Mercury center since 2013, faces drug smuggling charges after being found with cannabis vape cartridges in her carry-on luggage at a Moscow airport in February, according to Russian authorities.
She is in the custody of Russian authorities, USA TODAY learned on Saturday.
Russian Federal Customs Service announced on Saturday that a two-time Olympic basketball champion and member of the U.S. national team had been detained for carrying cannabis-derived oil cartridges, which could potentially lead to a maximum of a 10-year prison sentence.
The player was identified as Griner by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS.
Laws about possessing cannabis products vary by state and country, which may affect what happens to a person traveling with one.
Here is what you should know about traveling with cannabis products:
In the U.S., marijuana is still illegal federally
While marijuana is legal for adults in some U.S. states, including Arizona, under federal law it is still illegal, so it is not advisable to transport it over state lines.
THC is the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana. CBD is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that is often sold other products such as lotions and supplements.
Certain cannabis-infused products, including CBD oil, are illegal at the federal level if they contain more than 0.3 percent of THC on a dry weight basis.
It is not clear if the cartridges that Russian officials says Griner was carrying had either or both CBD or THC.
The Food and Drug Administration has only approved one cannabis-derived product, Epidiolex, which has a purified form of CBD, the agency said in January 2021, and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products: Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone). These are only available with prescriptions by licensed healthcare providers.
TSA doesn’t search for drugs
Transportation Security Administration officers are required to report suspected violations of law to local state, or federal authorities, but they do not search for illegal drugs during the screenings.
“TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer,” the website states.
TSA said their dogs aren’t sniffing for marijuana either. However, on an Instagram post they reiterated that if during the screening a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis infused product is found, law enforcement will be notified, even if it is used for medicinal purposes.
Traveling internationally with cannabis products
There is no specific guidance for traveling with cannabis products internationally, but as federal laws apply to anyone, if a product is illegal in a country, traveling with it could bring consequences.
For example, cannabis is legal for adults in Canada but the government website for travel and tourism states it is illegal to transport these products across Canadian borders regardless of the amount of cannabis and medical authorizations.
“Cannabis is illegal in most countries. If you try to travel internationally with any amount of cannabis in your possession, you could face serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad,” the Canadian government website states.
Column: Will Russians do the smart thing and free Mercury center Brittney Griner?
This applies even if the person is traveling to or from a place where cannabis has been decriminalized, according to the website. Consequences for traveling with cannabis products includes being denied entry into a country.
“You could be denied entry at your destination country if you have previously used cannabis or any substance prohibited by local laws,” the website states. “You could also be denied entry to other countries in the future.”
Two women arrested in recent years for similar reasons in Russia
In Russia, marijuana is illegal for recreational and medical purposes.
An Israeli-American woman was arrested at a Moscow airport in April 2019 as she was traveling from India to Israel and nine grams of marijuana were found in her luggage, BBC News reported.
Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for drug trafficking charges. The BBC reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned her in January 2020 ahead of a visit of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister at the moment, to Moscow.
A New York-based film student was charged with drug possession in St. Petersburg for allegedly taking medical marijuana into the country, The Moscow Times reported in September 2019.
CBS News reported Audrey Lorber was detained when she arrived in St. Petersburg for vacation and authorities found about 19 grams of marijuana on her. She said the drug was for medical reasons and showed the prescription but police said it wasn’t valid in Russia, CBS reported.
Lorber spent more than a month in a detention sentence. A court in St. Petersburg fined her for 15,000 rubles or $230 after finding her guilty.
However, not all are convinced Griner’s arrest is just an example of Russia enforcing its drug laws among travelers. U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement Sunday that “cannabis possession, alleged or real, is routinely used as a pretext by law enforcement around the world to target disfavored individuals and groups.
“In this case, Russian authorities appear to be using alleged cannabis possession as a pretext for holding a prominent American as leverage. Brittney Griner must not be used as a pawn by Russia. We urge the U.S. government to use all available channels to secure her speedy return home.”
Reach breaking news reporter Angela Cordoba Perez at [email protected] or on Twitter @AngelaCordobaP.
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