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Three months after Sha’Carri Richardson’s DQ, WADA announces it will re-examine marijuana as banned substance

  • September 15, 2021

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will instruct an advisory panel review whether cannabis should remain on its list of prohibited substances beyond 2022.

The announcement comes roughly three months after star U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for marijuana at this summer’s Olympic trials, disqualifying her first-place finish in the 100-meter dash and effectively knocking her out of the Tokyo Olympics. Marijuana and other cannabis products containing high amounts of THC are currently banned during competition under international anti-doping rules.

WADA did not specifically mention Richardson’s case in its announcement Tuesday, but it did note the decision to review marijuana’s place on its list of banned substances followed “requests from a number of stakeholders” to do so.

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In the meantime, marijuana will remain a prohibited substance at least through the end of 2022, WADA said. The list of prohibited substances for 2023 will be finalized next fall.

Marijuana has long been banned by WADA alongside traditional performance-enhancing steroids like stanozolol and nandrolone, even though it is now legal in 18 states – including Oregon, where Richardson said she ingested the drug earlier this summer. The anti-doping agency does not specify why marijuana, or any other specific substance, is banned, but it says such substances must meet two of three criteria: 

► It enhances, or could potentially enhance, an athlete’s performance.

► It could pose a health risk for athletes.

► It “violates the spirit of sport.”

In the wake of Richardson’s suspension, some experts criticized marijuana’s place on the list. Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado who studies sports governance, described efforts to regulate marijuana as an overstep.

“Whatever one thinks about recreational drugs, what’s WADA’s business in regulating them, given that we have jurisdictions around the world that have legal frameworks to do exactly that?” Pielke told USA TODAY Sports in early July.

“A lot of attention that could be paid to regulating actual doping drugs gets spent on regulating these morality drugs.”

Richardson, 21, had blossomed into one of the brightest stars on Team USA before news broke of her positive test, which resulted in a minimum 30-day suspension under WADA’s anti-doping code. The timing and duration of the suspension prevented her from competing in Tokyo.

Richardson later said in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show that she ingested marijuana after learning that her biological mother had died.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” she said. “I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what I’m allowed not to do, and I still made that decision.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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