American basketball star Brittney Griner has been found guilty on cannabis possession charges in a Russian court, according to NBC News. Griner was sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison and fined 1 million ruble ($16,950 USD) by Judge Anna Sotnikova on Thursday.
Russian prosecutors were previously seeking a 9 ½ year prison sentence for Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, just short of the 10-year maximum sentence.
Griner was charged with possessing cannabis vape cartridges while traveling through Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia, in February. Her trial began on July 1, and closing arguments took place Thursday, August 4, according to the Associated Press.
Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike the U.S., acquittals can be overturned, according to The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden issued a statement following the news of Griner's sentencing, calling for Russia to "release her immediately."
"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates," Biden said. "My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."
In late July, the Biden administration offered Russia a prisoner swap, with the U.S. offering to free notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Russia freeing Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan.
A few weeks before that, during the Fourth of July weekend, Griner wrote a letter to President Biden pleading for her freedom from Russian detention.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner wrote. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Cannabis Industry Reacts
Steven Hawkins, CEO of US Cannabis Council, released the following statement following Griner's sentencing.
"Brittney Griner is a political prisoner, and her 9-year sentence is an outrage. We trust that the Biden administration is actively working on her case and eagerly await her safe return home. Griner's case is also a wakeup call for Americans. Her trial and sentence in Russia may seem like an outlier at a time of sweeping acceptance and legalization, but it isn't. Cannabis remains illegal and possession is harshly punished around the world. The US is no exception.
"In June, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for a cannabis possession charge. Thousands of Americans are in prison at this moment for cannabis charges. We call on President Biden to get Griner home safely and clean up our own affairs by granting a blanket pardon for cannabis offenses and encouraging state and local expungement efforts," Hawkins added.
Editor's Note: This story is ongoing and is being updated accordingly.