Efforts are underway to reexamine the rules around cannabis use by athletes after Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Richardson is a 21-year-old from Dallas, Texas, who ran the 100-meter dash in 10.86 seconds in June and became a national sensation. However, she tested positive for cannabis in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics. She was subsequently disqualified from competing.
Richardson explained on the Today Show she was consuming cannabis in the wake of her mother’s death to cope.
“I still made that decision … not making any excuse or looking for any empathy in my case,” Richardson said. “People don’t understand, or people do, we all have our different things we deal with what it’s like to go in front of the world, put on a face and hide my pain.”
Sha’Carri Richardson hopes the blowback from her suspension leads to a change in the rules regarding cannabis consumption by athletes.
“If those rules do change, honestly, I’m just blessed and proud of the fact I could do that for other athletes,” she said.
Many scientific experts noted that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug in the vein of steroids. Thus, it should not lead to disqualifications from participating in athletic events.
Fighting for a Change in Cannabis Rules for Sha’Carri Richardson
In the light of the massive support Sha’Carri Richardson received in the face of discrimination, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which sets such rules for the Olympics, is reviewing its policies regarding cannabis. They noted the United States pushed to have cannabis on the list of prohibited substances in the past.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (D-NY) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) urged the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to work to remove Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension.
“We urge you to reconsider the policies that led to this and other suspensions for recreational-use marijuana,” they said. “This punishment, which is not supported by any scientific evidence, may prevent Ms. Richardson from competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics just after she inspired the country with her performance in the Olympic trials last month.”
“This suspension is the result of USADA’s antiquated prohibition on the use of cannabis products by U.S. athletes,” they added. “The ban on marijuana is a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties.”
The USADA responded to the letter, saying the rules “must change.”
USA Track & Field, the national governing body for track and field sports has also said the policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.”
Other Members of Congress are also supportive of Sha’Carri Richardson.
“Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on Fourth of July,” Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) said at a House Judiciary Committee meeting.
“To take [Richardson’s] right to appear and her dream away from her is absurd, and this Congress should see that we don’t have these problems in the future,” he added.
A lot of the responsibility for making changes to cannabis policy rests on the shoulders of President Joe Biden. Biden was a long-time proponent of the War on Drugs who has only slowly come around to the idea of cannabis decriminalization. While initially indifferent, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that they might need to “take another look.”