Sports

USADA: Unable to change marijuana rules alone

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency leaders are pushing to further mitigate “harsh consequences” for marijuana if it’s not intentionally used to enhance performance, though they cannot unilaterally change the rules, they wrote in a letter to members of Congress critical of the agency in the wake of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s ban from the Olympics.

The letter, sent Friday, addressed criticisms leveled by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in their own letter, sent last week, after Richardson’s suspension was announced.

The 21-year-old sprinter will not compete at the Tokyo Games after testing positive for a chemical found in marijuana after her victory in the 100-meter finals at the Olympic trials last month.

Officially, she received a 30-day ban, but the positive test nullified her first-place finish at the trials, which cost her a spot in the individual race. Earlier this week, USA Track and Field left her off the Olympic roster, meaning she can’t run in the 4×100 relay, which takes place after the 30-day ban is over.

Friday’s letter, co-signed by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, referenced a UFC rule that does not penalize marijuana use if it is not meant to enhance performance. While USADA oversees the UFC’s anti-doping program, that league is not signed on to the international anti-doping code, the way USADA, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and all organizations that oversee Olympic athletes are.

It said that because Richardson accepted her 30-day sanction, any attempt to reverse it, as Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin suggested should happen, “would have been quickly appealed” by the IOC or World Anti-Doping Agency and might have resulted in an even longer suspension.

In last Friday’s letter to Tygart and WADA president Witold Banka, Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin wrote “the ban on marijuana is a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties.” It said the rule was even more antiquated because of more permissive attitudes about the drug, which “is currently legal in 19 states” and “legal in some form in at least 35 countries around the world.”

But USADA countered that “most governments in the world have been very reluctant to take marijuana off the prohibited list for public health reasons.”

“It is worth noting that when marijuana was included in the first prohibited list in 2004, one of the strongest advocates for inclusion of marijuana on the prohibited list was the U.S. government.”

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