Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Outrage reigned supreme amongst American track and field enthusiasts, casual supporters, and agnostics when they heard the news of Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension for a positive THC test. U.S. House Representatives Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin penned a letter to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) requesting an overturn of the ban. We don’t need a pandemic to say that we are living in unprecedented times.
She ran with a flair and style that was reminiscent of a combination of Florence Griffith Joyner and Gail Devers, so why wouldn’t there be outrage? The outrage is of course compounded by the fact that marijuana laws have become so relaxed in so many different states, including the one she was competing in – Oregon – despite being against federal regulations. So, what’s the law here? USADA is a signatory to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and WADA mandates a minimum of a one-month suspension for a positive THC test, if USADA decided to ignore it, then the entire USA’s team could be banned from the Olympics and future international competitions.
Let’s also consider that marijuana is still illegal as a recreational drug in more countries than it’s not, which may offend some sensibilities because Americans will have to cope with the notion that there is a very wide world outside of America, and that America makes up 4% of the world’s population. So, what’s the real issue? Firstly, in my opinion, marijuana should not be a banned substance; however, to say it’s not performance-enhancing is misleading. Marijuana severely decreases anxiety in a lot of persons and that can improve performance. Anxiety and other mental health issues have come forward as major health concerns in athletes thanks to Brandon Marshall, Marin Cilic, Kevin Love, Demar DeRozan, Naomi Osaka, and the list goes on.
In track and field, anything remotely performance-enhancing has the opportunity to give you an edge, which is why we have seen athletes being banned for taking cough medicine or using a nebulizer because of an asthma attack before a race. It may seem ridiculous (it is), but to ensure that there’s a level playing field then there must be strict and unwavering enforcement.
The last thing any of us should do is cry for Ms. Richardson, because she has gained way more notoriety, attention, and support for herself than she would have ever gotten if she had gone to the Olympics. Nike has stood by her, unlike back in the day when marijuana was viewed as untouchable for corporate America. She’s doing national television gigs, she was at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Awards, she’s getting offers of 250k to be a spokesperson for a cannabis-based company, Dr. Dabber, and she’s still only 21 year old with a long and lucrative career ahead of her. Sha’Carri will be just fine, how she progresses as an athlete is entirely up to her, but she’s getting her money and a lot of it. I just hope for her sake that it doesn’t all go up in a cloud of smoke.