White House to Push for Policy Change on Cannabis Use in Sport

Stephen Andrews
11 Jul 2021

Following the suspension of star sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson, the US seeks talks with World Anti-Doping Agency.

Sha'Carri Richardson's case certainly made all the buzz on sports radio and television in recent days. The athlete was suspended from competing in the upcoming Olympics as tests returned positive on the presence of marijuana chemicals in her body. 

Richardson's removal from the Olympics was officialized on Tuesday, July 6, when the USA Track and Field roaster did not feature her name, despite her winning the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials last month. The athlete's suspension from the games has led to an outrage, with over half a million backing a petition to reinstate her. 

In the meantime, the White House pushes for a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency to discuss loosening restrictions on the use of cannabis by athletes. According to Financial Times, the White House seeks the meeting via the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has a seat on the foundation board of Wada. This international body governs anti-doping policies in international sports, including the Olympics. 

The board is due 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 comments. 

The request follows a week after it was revealed Richardson had used marijuana before the US Olympic Trials in Oregon, where the substance is legal for adult use, as is in eighteen other states across the US. However, cannabis remains prohibited in some elite sports through rules set by Wada. Critics of Wada said the regulation is inconsistent with modern US law. 

Before the unwanted scandal broke, Richardson was a favorite to win a gold medal in the women's 100-meter dash. She was subsequently suspended for one month, as is the regulation, which means she will miss the Tokyo Olympics due to begin July 23.

News media and sports representatives have generally grilled Richardson, failing to show a lack of compassion. However, she has received immense support from the American public, including politicians. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently asked the US and global anti-doping officials to revoke Richardson’s suspension. In a letter last week, they argued “prohibition of marijuana while your organizations allow recreational use of alcohol and other drugs reflects anti-drug laws and policies that have historically targeted black and brown communities.”

US President Joe Biden also made a statement, saying, "the rules are the rules." He also said: "Whether that should remain that way is a different issue."

Richardson's said she had self-medicated with cannabis to cope with the recent death of her birth mother, days before the US trials. 

Following the news of her suspension, she took to Twitter to leave followers and supporters with an uplifting, hopeful message. "I'm sorry, I can't be y'all Olympic Champ this year but I promise I'll be your World Champ next year," she wrote.

She also apologized on NBC's Today show, saying, "as much as I'm disappointed, I know that when I step on the track I represent not only myself, I represent a community that has shown great support, great love."

"I apologize for the fact that I didn't know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time," she said.  

“We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to put on a face and have to go out in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain,” Richardson said. “Who are you? Who am I to tell you how to cope when you’re dealing with a pain or you’re dealing with a struggle that you’ve never experienced before or that you never thought you’d have to deal with. Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?”

Stephen Andrews