Brittney Griner reflects on ‘mental lapse’ over cannabis vape cartridges that left her in Russia jail

‘I could just visualise everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away,’ Olympic gold medallist says

Michelle Del Rey
Monday 29 April 2024 21:01 BST
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WNBA star Brittney Griner says that it was a “mental lapse” about a cannabis vape pen that led to her 10-month Russian imprisonment.

The basketball player, 33, was taken into custody after cannabis oil cartridges were found in her luggage in February 2022 at a Moscow-area airport. Cannabis is an illegal substance in Russia. She returned to the US in December 2022 in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Now, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time WNBA All-Star, is opening up about the whole ordeal in detail for the first time in an upcoming interview with 20/20 , that will air on Wednesday.

“I could just visualise everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away”, Griner says, in comments released ahead of the interview.

She said that the whole experience was made more difficult because of her inability to communicate with the prison officers.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia on 7 July 2022
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia on 7 July 2022 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Phoenix Mercury player was in Russia to play during the WNBA’s off-season. She was taken into custody at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki, a city that is part of the Moscow metropolitan area in February 2022.

In July, she pleaded guilty to drug charges, testifying that the cartridges were in her luggage accidentally and she had “no intention” of breaking Russian law.

20/20’s Robin Roberts asked Griner how she managed to bring the cartridges with her by mistake.

“Have you ever forgot your keys in your car?” Griner said. “Left your car running? Have you ever, you know, where’s my glasses? They’re on top of your head. Where’s my phone? Oh, it’s in my pocket. It’s just so easy to have a mental lapse.

“Granted, my mental lapse was on a more grand scale. But it doesn’t take away from how that can happen”.

Brittney Griner, pictured at the Met Gala in May 2023 with her wife Cherelle Griner, reflected on her time in a Russian prison
Brittney Griner, pictured at the Met Gala in May 2023 with her wife Cherelle Griner, reflected on her time in a Russian prison (Getty Images)

She continued: “This was a mistake. It was an accident, which I understand accidents have repercussions”, Griner said. “And I’m American in Russia where relations aren’t the best”.

Roberts asked Griner to explain what was going through her mind when she realised what she’d done.

“I’m thinking about my wife. I’m thinking about my dad. You know, what my mom’s going to think, what my family’s going to think, public opinion is going to think”, she said. “I can just see the headlines now”.

The Department of State classified Griner’s case as “unlawfully detained” in May 2022. It is the same designation given to former US marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich who are still being held in Russia.

Since returning to the US, Griner has continued to play basketball and is expecting her first baby with wife Cherelle Griner in July.

The basketball star will reveal more about her time in Russian jail in a memoir titled, Coming Home. The book is scheduled to be released on 7 May.

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