World Anti-Doping Agency Keeps Cannabis Ban in Place

The governing body considered dropping the ban following the suspension of U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson last year.
Photo by Steph Chambers / Getty Images

A year after saying it was reconsidering its ban on cannabis, the World Anti-Doping Agency will reportedly keep the ban in place.

The Wall Street Journal, citing “people who have seen a draft copy of the list,” reported on Monday that the agency “appears set to keep cannabis on its list of prohibited substances for 2023, despite friction over American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension last year.”

Richardson was suspended last summer less than a month before the start of the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana, which brought international scrutiny to what many consider an antiquated ban.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, all have cannabis listed as a banned substance.

The U.S. governing bodies say that cannabis is banned because it could potentially pose a health and safety risk to athletes, and that cannabis could be a performance-enhancing substance for some.

The outrage over Richardson’s suspension prompted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to reconsider the policy. Last September, the agency said it would take up a recommendation from its Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group and launch “a scientific review of the status of cannabis.”

A year later, it appears as though the status quo will prevail.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that as “the deadline approaches to finalize the WADA 2023 prohibited list, however, there are strong indications that cannabis will remain prohibited,” with the Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group in favor of “keeping a ban in place, saying that based on the scientific evidence available, the drug meets the criteria for inclusion on the list.”

According to the Journal, the advisory group “circulated a draft list for 2023 that still includes cannabis,” and that WADA “typically follows the advice.” But the Journal noted that the agency “emphasized that the list is still provisional until later this month.”

“The draft 2023 Prohibited List is still under consideration,” a WADA spokesman said in a statement, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal. “WADA’s Executive Committee will be asked to approve the final version of the List during its 23 September meeting, with the List itself being published on or before 1 October and coming into force on 1 January.”

Richardson’s positive marijuana test came shortly after she won the 100m dash at the U.S Olympic trials. Now 22, Richardson took responsibility for her actions after the test was revealed.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Richardson said during an interview on the Today show at the time. “I know what I did and what I’m not supposed to do. I know what I’m not allowed to do, and I still made that decision. Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case but being in that position of my life and finding out something like that—something that I would say has impacted my life positively and negatively […] when it comes to dealing with the relationship with my mother—that definitely was a heavy topic on me.”

But others were less forgiving of the decision, with Richardson drawing a wave of support from fellow athletes, lawmakers and even the White House.

“It does stink,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview at the time. “I don’t think there’s a better definition of it. She has lost her mother; she’d gone through a tragedy and she’s also the fastest woman in the world—and I think she’s sending a message to a lot of little girls out there; you can do this. We know the rules are where they are; maybe we should take another look at them. We certainly have to respect the role of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the decisions they make. But it is sad.”

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