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World Anti-Doping Agency Keeps Marijuana Sports Ban

With the decision to continue the Cannabis ban in international sports, athletes who test positive will face suspension

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The World Anti-Doping Agency is likely to keep a ban on marijuana use by athletes in 2023, reports Forbes. The agency continued the ban despite pressure to change the policy on Cannabis after U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was barred from the Summer Olympic Games after testing positive last year. 

With the continued ban on weed by the body charged with preventing drugs in international sports, athletes who test positive for marijuana in competition will face suspension from eligibility, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Last year, WADA announced that it would conduct a scientific review to determine if pot should remain on the banned substances list. WADA initiated the review with the encouragement of the US Anti-Doping Agency. Athletes and politicians offered support. The action followed Richardson’s positive test for THC at a qualifying event.

Richardson’s 2021 Suspension Sparked Debate

The agency’s decision highlights tensions over an herb increasingly used legally for medical and recreational purposes in some countries. Experts dispute marijuana’s effects on athletic performance. 

WADA oversees drug testing in Olympic and other sports. Last year the agency agreed to initiate a scientific review of the status of cannabis on the prohibited list. The review came after the suspension of Richardson, the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials women’s 100-meter champion. She tested positive for marijuana.

Richardson’s suspension sparked public debate in the U.S. in particular. Whilst still illegal federally, marijuana is legal for medical or adult use in dozens of states.

“An Inspiring Young Woman”

Pro athletes such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Dwyane Wade expressed support for Richardson. Fans on social media pointed out that Cannabis is legal in Oregon, location of the Olympic trials.

Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki described Richardson as “an inspiring young woman.” Psaki maintained it wasn’t appropriate for the President to comment on the suspension itself.

WADA’s Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group has backed keeping a marijuana ban in place. The group claims that based on the scientific evidence, the herb meets criteria for inclusion on the list. 

That advisory group circulated a draft list for 2023 still including weed. The group provides recommendations on the prohibited-substances list to WADA leadership. The agency typically follows the advice.

List Still Provisional Until Next Month

The World Anti-Doping Agency emphasized that the list is still provisional until later this month. The draft list is still under consideration, according to a spokesman. WADA’s Executive committee meets to approve the list on September 23.

Officials from the Netherlands have advocated for removing cannabinoids, chemicals found in cannabis, from the list. The Dutch anti-doping agency published details of WADA’s draft list alongside formal responses from Dutch authorities on its website.

“Cannabinoids most likely have a negative impact on athletic performance,” the agency wrote. Typically, most of the other substances on the list are performance enhancers.

Other concerns raised by the Dutch included the possibility that the ban stood to prevent athletes from using popular CBD products. An agency official said he couldn’t comment further about the draft list.

US Position On Ban Unclear

The United States’ official position has been less clear. 

Last year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency argued that the “rules concerning marijuana must change,” according to a letter to U.S. politicians signed by USADA CEO Travis Tygart

In the letter, Tygart noted the different marijuana policy of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, whose anti-doping program USADA oversees. Under that policy, Richardson’s positive test wouldn’t have resulted in a suspension. That’s because marijuana was determined not to be intentionally used for performance-enhancing purposes. UFC doesn’t operate under the WADA code. 

But WADA claimed that the U.S. had stopped short of calling for cannabis to be taken off the banned list entirely. In a Friday statement, the WADA spokesman said, “to date neither the United States authorities nor the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has requested the removal of cannabis from the Prohibited List.”

US Anti-Doping Agency Advocates Changing Approach To Marijuana

“For almost a decade, USADA has advocated for WADA to change its approach to marijuana so a positive test is not a violation unless it was intentionally used to enhance performance or endangers the health or safety of competitors,” Tygart said in an interview.

Hashish and marijuana have been on WADA’s prohibited list since it was first published in 2004. Cannabis is categorized as a supposed ”substance of abuse” on the list, appearing alongside things like cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.

Richardson said she had taken marijuana to calm her anxiety about a death in the family. She’s had uneven results since her Olympic-trials race. Richardson won a few small meets but failing to qualify for the world championships earlier this summer in Eugene, Ore. Last week, she finished seventh in the 100 meters in Zurich in the last meet of the season in the Diamond League, the world’s top professional series.

Richardson’s agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, wrote in a text message regarding the status of marijuana on the 2023 prohibited list: “We adhere to the rules as they’re currently in place.” He declined to comment further.

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