Friday, July 2, 2021

Track Star Sha'Carri Richardson Banned from Olympic Race Over Marijuana Test


Send a message to WADA and USADA to tell them to revise their policies to be in compliance with the shifting legal and cultural standing of cannabis. 
 
This story has been updated. 

American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson apologized to her agent, her family, her sponsors and her fans on The Today Show after the US Anti-Doping Agency announced she had tested positive for marijuana. Richardson will be suspended from competing for 30 days and will miss the 100 meter race at the upcoming Olympics. She will also miss the 4X100 meter relay taking place following her suspension after US Track and Field did not name Richardson to the US team, even while saying marijuana punishments "should be reevaluated."

Richardson rose to fame in 2019 as a Louisiana State University freshman when she broke the 100m record at the NCAA championships with a speed of 10.75 seconds. She won the 100m Olympic Trials on June 19 on Eugene, Oregon with a time of 10.86 seconds and ran to the stands to hug the grandmother who raised her just afterwards. That performance has now been disqualified, and she will be replaced by the fourth-place finisher. 

In an interview on NBC, Richardson said she was "blinded by emotions" after she found out that her biological mother had died when a reporter asked her about it days before her trial, and turned to marijuana to cope from the "triggering" and "nerve-shocking" news. "Who are you or who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain you never experienced before?" a contrite Richardson said. 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted an interview with Richardson where she mentions her mother's death after winning her race, applauding her "grace and grit" and adding, "Can't wait to see what you do in Tokyo!" Obama admitted in her memoir that she smoked pot in her youth. She's been silent since Richardson's suspension, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who made excuses for the Biden administration firing employees over past marijuana use earlier this year, said when asked about Richardson on Friday, July 2, “this was an independent decision made by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and not a decision that would be made by the U.S. government," adding, "that Richardson “is an inspiring young woman who has gone through a lot personally—and she also happens to be one of the fastest women in the world.” After Richardson wasn't named to the US Olympic team so that she could compete in the 4X100 meter relay, Psaki said, "It does stink."

On Saturday 7/3, President Biden was asked if he thought the ban was fair and said, "The rules are the rules....whether they should remain the rules is a different issue," adding he “was really proud of [Richardson] and the way she responded” to the controversy. Biden didn't take a follow-up question about Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and other congressmembers writing to WADA and USADA asking them to reconsider their decision. In a series of Tweets, Ocasio-Cortez said, "Even the medical director of @wada_ama, whose U.S. arm issued the suspension, has said there is no evidence that marijuana is performance enhancing. Not to mention, marijuana is legal in Oregon where Ms. Richardson was when she used it," and, "Major league baseball, hockey and football all have removed penalties for marijuana use. It's time for the IOC and@usantidoping to do the same. #LetShaCarriRun."

Today's Savannah Guthrie noted while interviewing Richardson, "I should mention, you were in Oregon, it's legal in Oregon, but it was against the rules of your sport and you have acknowledged that." The Olympic trials took place at the new Hayward Stadium in Eugene, also known as "TrackTown USA" for its long history of producing champions, and Nike (which is sticking with Richardson). The Oregon college town is also replete with legal marijuana stores, and billboards advertising them. Richardson would have had no trouble scoring a state-legal stash there. 

The incident is emblematic of drug testing in the US: despite 18 states + D.C. legalizing recreational marijuana, we're disqualifying some of our best and brightest workers over a peccadillo, and an exercise in freedom of choice that has no effect on job performance. The news comes just after Connecticut became the fifth state to protect the employment rights of recreational marijuana users while legalizing marijuana, pointing out in its law that a positive marijuana test "shall not be construed, without other evidence, as proof that such individual is under the influence of cannabis." Twenty states protect medical marijuana users' employment rights. 

Also of late, the California State Personnel Board ruled that an employee can't be fired for using marijuana off the job; the US House Appropriations Committee adopted a report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law; and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued an opinion stating that the federal laws against marijuana "strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary."

Not only is the NFL no longer suspending players who test positive for marijuana, it is funding research into its use for pain management. The NBA has stopped doing random testing for marijuana, and cannabinoids were taken off the MLB's drugs of abuse list in 2019. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which governs the Olympics relaxed its rules on CBD in 2019, but THC remains prohibited as a "substance of abuse" (not a performance enhancer). Alcohol was removed from the WADA list of banned substances in 2018. 

Richardson with her Grandmother in Eugene.
Olympians Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have admitted to smoking marijuana. Things have loosened up so much that Bill Maher just made a joke that now that skateboarding is an Olympic sport, drug testing should be implemented to make sure skaters are on pot (the first-ever gold medalist in snowboarding, Ross Rebagliati, tested positive for pot after winning his medal in 1998 and briefly had it revoked). 

A message on Richardson's official Twitter account says simply, "I am human." With 91% of Americans in favor of medical marijuana legalization, and 60% in favor of adult recreational legalization, she represents us humans well.

Send a message to WADA and USADA to tell them to revise their policies to be in compliance with the shifting legal and cultural standing of cannabis. 

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