White House to push for rethink on cannabis use in sport

The White House is pushing for a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency to discuss loosening restrictions on the use of cannabis by athletes, after star sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was left off the US Olympic team because she tested positive for marijuana.

The White House is seeking the meeting through the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has a seat on the foundation board of Wada, the international body responsible for governance of anti-doping in global sport, including the Olympic Games.

The board is next scheduled to meet on November 25, but the ONDCP told the Financial Times that, “if possible, the US will secure an earlier discussion of [cannabis policy] within Wada”.

The office said it intended to ask Wada about policies restricting cannabis use, “including the timeframe for testing, and the basis for the consideration of cannabis as a performance enhancing drug”.

Wada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The request comes a week after it was revealed Richardson had tested positive for marijuana at the US Olympic Trials in Oregon. The substance is legal for recreational use in the state, though it remains prohibited in some elite sports through rules set by Wada. 

Richardson, a former favourite for a gold medal in the women’s 100-metre dash, was subsequently suspended from competition for one month, meaning she will miss the Tokyo Olympics, where she was expected to be a breakout star.

Her suspension prompted a backlash from politicians and the American public over what some see as a policy inconsistent with modern US law. Nineteen states had fully legalised recreational marijuana use as of last month, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

“The rules are the rules”, said US President Joe Biden last week when asked about Richardson’s suspension. “Whether that should remain that way is a different issue.”

A petition by asking that Richardson be reinstated to the US Olympic team has garnered over 560,000 signatures as of Friday.

Two members of the US House of Representatives, Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, recently asked US and global anti-doping officials to rescind Richardson’s suspension.

In a letter last week, they argued that “prohibition of marijuana while your organisations allow recreational use of alcohol and other drugs reflects anti-drug laws and policies that have historically targeted black and brown communities”.

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In a letter responding to them on Friday, officials from the US Anti-Doping Agency wrote that the agency “agrees that Ms Richardson’s exclusion from the Tokyo Olympic Games is a heartbreaking situation and that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules concerning marijuana use must change”.

The US is the largest single contributor to Wada’s annual budget and is expected to provide more than $2.9m in 2021, according to the agency’s website. The agency reviews its list of banned and restricted substances and methods annually, seeking input from all stakeholders in a review process beginning this month, which is expected to conclude in the autumn. 

Richardson has said she accepts her suspension. “I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do and am allowed not to do, and I still made that decision,” she told the Today Show last week. “I’m not making an excuse. I’m not looking for any empathy in my case.”

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