The sports world was recently rocked when track-and-field athlete Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for one month for testing positive for cannabis — jeopardizing her ability to represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics. The United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that her ineligibility period runs from June 28 through July 27, and it means Richardson “forfeits any medal, points and prizes” during this time.
The suspension barred her from competing in the 100-meter individual race, where she was favored to be named the world’s fastest woman. While there was initially hope she could still compete in the 4×100-meter relay on August 5, her name did not appear on the roster that was released by USA Track and Field.
And the suspension also puts the Olympic world out of step with the attitudes of major league sports, which have generally acknowledged that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing substance. However, the USADA still tests for, and punishes use of, cannabis, as their banned list of drugs includes not only steroids and other harmful substances but also drugs they claim “violates the spirit of the sport.”
So many legislators, organizations and opinion leaders are speaking out in a wide-ranging debate. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin sent a letter to both the U.S. and World Anti-Doping Agencies urging Richardson be reinstated. As they wrote, “the continued prohibition of marijuana while your organizations allow recreational use of alcohol and other drugs reflects anti-drug laws and policies that have historically targeted Black and Brown communities while largely condoning drug use in white communities … Anti-marijuana laws have a particularly ugly history of systemic racism.”
NORML issued a statement saying in part, “Sha’Carri Richardson, like millions of her fellow Americans, turned to cannabis’ therapeutic benefits to help her cope with the tragic loss of her mother. To use this as a rationale for denying this athlete, who is otherwise competing at the top of her sport, the ability to represent the United States at the Tokyo Olympics should be an unacceptable outcome in this situation. Let Richardson race.”
In addition, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the leaders of a key House subcommittee, and a separate bipartisan group of members of Congress all sent messages to the USADA and the WADA urging a course reversal. President Joe Biden expressed his own support for Richardson, acknowledging that while “rules are rules”, the question is open whether “they should remain the rules.” While overturning the suspension is unlikely, Richardson, who is 21, is eager to return to competition and ready herself for the 2016 Olympics.