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Tipsheet

WNBA Star Detained in Russia Over Possession of Cannabis Oil

AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February and could face up to 10 years in prison after customs officials found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

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The Russian Federal Customs Service announced in a statement Saturday that an American "two-time Olympic basketball champion" had been taken into custody in February after a narcotics dog at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow indicated that the athlete's luggage may contain drugs. 

"In February 2022, an athlete who flew to Moscow from New York went through the green corridor," the statement read. "The service dog of the Sheremetyevo Customs indicated that drugs may be in the carry-on luggage of a U.S. citizen. After scanning the bag, the customs officers noticed vapes. The experts found that the cartridges for them contain liquid with hash oil."

The agency released a video that appeared to show the 6-foot-9 Griner walking through airport security. The date of the incident was not revealed.

The Customs Service did not name the athlete but a Russian security source identified her to the Russian News Agency TASS as Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner.

She could face between 5-10 years in prison for the "smuggling of narcotic drugs in a significant amount" if found guilty, the Customs Service said in its statement, adding that an investigation is underway.

In a Saturday statement to ESPN, Griner's agent said her legal team is communicating with the WNBA and NBA regarding the "ongoing legal 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," the statement read. "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."

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Griner, like many other WNBA players, has played overseas during the league's offseason to increase her earnings. She has played in Russia for the past seven years and is currently a member of UMMC Ekaterinburg.

This comes after the U.S. State Department issued multiple travel advisory warnings urging Americans not to fly to Russia amid its conflict with Ukraine.

On Jan. 23, the State Department issued a "do not travel" advisory for Russia, warning Americans against traveling to the country over "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy's limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law."

And on Saturday, the State Department delivered another advisory warning Americans not to fly to Russia because of Russia's "unprovoked" invasion of Ukraine and "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials."

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