Cannabis To Remain On "Banned Substances List" For International Athletes.

Liz Filmer
30 Sep 2022

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has officially announced that despite opposition, cannabis will stay on the list of banned substances for international athletes. A scientific review's findings have decided that cannabis "violates the spirit of sport."

Advocates vehemently urged WADA to pass a reform after U.S. runner Sha'Carri Richardson was suspended from partaking in Olympics events due to a positive THC test last year. The organisation reviewed cannabis as a performance-enhancing drug following this incident. Still, the Executive Committee decided to uphold the ban.

"The question of how THC should be dealt with in sport is far from straightforward. WADA is aware of the diversity of opinions and perceptions of this substance worldwide and within certain countries. WADA is also aware that the requests for THC's removal from the Prohibited List are not endorsed by the experts' thorough review," - WADA Director General Olivier Niggli 

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that the international rules on marijuana "must change" following Richardson's announcement. Even President Joe Biden signalled it was time for change and new policies.

Despite the publicity and advocacy for reform, WADA said the Executive Committee decided to stay the course. The decision on whether a substance should be banned depends on meeting at least two of three criteria—including the finding that it "violates the spirit of sport" under its code.

The remaining two factors include whether a drug "has the potential to enhance sport performance" or "represents a health risk to the athlete." 

WADA said that people would only be penalised if they were regular consumers or were actively impaired. The agency emphasised that cannabis is prohibited in "competition only." An athlete's THC metabolites must exceed 150 nanograms per millilitre in a urine test to enforce the rule. 

A WADA spokesperson this month stated that "to date neither the United States authorities nor the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has requested the removal of cannabis from the Prohibited List."

However, USADA seems to disagree with this point, claiming that, for decades, the organisation "has advocated for WADA to change its approach to marijuana, so a positive test is not a violation unless it was intentionally used to enhance performance or endangers the health or safety of competitors."

In other sporting circles, however, things are starting to change The NFL's drug testing policy changed demonstrably in 2020. NFL players no longer face suspension over positive tests for any drug—not just cannabis. Instead, they will face a fine. The threshold for a positive THC test was also increased under the collaborative bargaining deal.

 In late 2020 the NBA announced that it was extending its policy of not randomly drug-testing players for cannabis during the 2021-2022 season. The NBA said it wouldn't be randomly drug testing players for THC; however, they will continue to test when needed "for cause" in cases where players have a history of substance use.


Liz Filmer