U.S. May Push for WADA Marijuana Rule Changes

The furor over the Sha’Carri Richardson Tokyo DQ for pot has the attention of the White House.

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(ATR) The furor over the disqualification of U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has the attention of the White House and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The 21-year-old sprinter won a spot in the 100m event in Tokyo this month at the U.S. Olympic trials but lost it days later when she tested positive for cannabis. Richardson says she used marijuana in Oregon as a way to help cope with news that her biological mother had died. Personal use of marijuana in Oregon is legal.

But cannabis is clearly banned by WADA and violators are subject to sanction. In this case, a 30-day suspension, just long enough to keep her out of action in Tokyo. Richardson was favored to win gold.

In the wake of the controversy, the U.S. government appears to be open to launching a move to take cannabis off the WADA list of prohibited substances.

"We know the rules are where they are. Maybe we should take another look at them," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a briefing last week.

"We certainly have to respect the role of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Olympic Committee in the decisions they make, but it is sad," she said about the consequences for Richardson.

A spokesperson from the Office of National Drug Control Policy tells Around the Rings that discussions are ahead on whether to push for a change in the status of marijuana with WADA. Interim ONDCP director Regina LaBelle holds a seat on the WADA Foundation Board that sets policy for the anti-doping agency based in Montreal.

"WADA’s list of prohibited substances for 2021 was approved in 2020. The [WADA] Foundation Board is scheduled to meet next on November 25, at which time there will be an opportunity to ask about WADA policies related to cannabis, including the timeframe for testing, and the basis for the consideration of cannabis as a performance enhancing drug," the spokesperson tells ATR.

"If possible, the U.S. will secure an earlier discussion of this topic within WADA," the official says.

The US Anti-Doping Agency, which suspended Richardson, likewise expressed regret about it but maintained that their hands were effectively tied, and that removing marijuana from WADA’s list of banned substances would be a contentious issue.

"While the U.S. government has a seat at the table to provide feedback, and will continue to speak up for athletes, we are ultimately bound to the WADA rules. This is true even in sad and tough cases like this one, where we might take a different approach if the choice was ours to make," USADA said in a statement.

"Inclusion of Cannabinoids, including marijuana, on the Prohibited List has been vigorously debated since WADA’s inception back in 2003. Many now support it being removed since the list should be primarily about performance-enhancing substances and because marijuana is widely available in certain countries."

"However, many also agree from a sport health and safety standpoint that it should remain on the list to prevent possible impairment and serious injuries during competition. For example, we don’t want an impaired cyclist speeding at 70 miles per hour in a group of other cyclists down a mountain in the Tour de France or a similarly impaired snowboarder risking injuries on a half-pipe at the Olympics."

The difficulty in advocating for changes to WADA’s Prohibited List includes a worldwide consultation process. Most countries still ban the recreational use of cannabis, including 2020 Olympic host Japan, where possession is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Homepage photo:Flickr/Diego Cambiaso

Reported by Filip Vachuda.