World Anti-Doping Agency to Reconsider Ban on Cannabis

The World Anti-Doping Agency is reconsidering banning cannabis in sports now that perceptions are changing.

Two months after the United States’ top women’s sprinter was ruled ineligible for the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for marijuana, the international agency overseeing banned substances in sports said it is ready to review its prohibition on pot. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said Tuesday that it will act on an endorsement from its Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group and initiate “a scientific review of the status of cannabis.” Cannabis is on WADA’s list of banned substances, and the agency said it will continue to be in 2022.

The development comes on the heels of the July suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson, who had won the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier in the summer. Weeks before the Tokyo games were set to kick off, Richardson accepted a one-month suspension after the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that she had tested positive for cannabis.

Both the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee follow WADA’s banned substance code.

The suspension of Richardson, 21, was widely criticized and mocked, with many observers in and out of the world of track and field pointing the inconsistency of banning marijuana at a time when a growing number of states in America––and even the federal government––are moving toward legalizing pot.

(The USADA’s official reasoning for banning marijuana use among its athletes is that pot poses a health and safety risk to athletes and that cannabis can be performance-enhancing.)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki lamented the suspension, noting that Richardson’s mother had recently passed.

“It does stink,” Psaki said in an interview on cable news 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.”

Other voices in politics derided the suspension.

“Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” said Representative Steven Cohen, a Democrat who represents Tennessee’s ninth district. “To take her right to appear, her dream, away from her, is absurd.”

Cohen called on his colleagues on Capitol Hill to move forward on cannabis reform.

“Congress should see that we don’t have these problems in the future. We deschedule marijuana. We leave it up to the states. If [Richardson had] gotten rip-roaring drunk on margaritas, Red Bull or whatever else you drink out there these days, lagers, she’d have been fine because it wouldn’t have shown up in her system, and if it had shown up in her system––if she’d have been .02 alcohol––she still would have been allowed to run,” Cohen said.

“But for marijuana, that could have been 20 days ago, and just a puff or two, she’s gone. So let’s get real,” he continued. “The War on Drugs is a total failure. Nancy Reagan was wrong. Everybody who followed her and the others who said, ‘Just say no,’ were wrong because that wasn’t sufficient. Let’s pass this bill, and let’s decriminalize marijuana, and let’s get our people to where they are not being afflicted by the cultural lag of the United States Congress.”

Richardson, for her part, owned up to her decision.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Richardson said in an interview after news of the positive test result broke. “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 in my life when it comes to dealing with the relationship with my mother—that definitely was a heavy topic on me.”

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