Star American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson rose to fame after breaking the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships women’s 100-meter record as a freshman at the Louisiana State University. She recently won the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S Olympic trials this past month. Everything seemed to be going great for the young star until she tested positive for THC. It’s clear that athletic regulatory bodies are yet to comprehend the difference between CBD and THC

Consequently, the (USTAF) USA Track and Field and the (USADA) United States Anti-Doping Agency announced her suspension from the United States Olympic team from June 28th for a period of 30 days. Richardson subsequently appeared on NBC’s Today Show. She showed no bitterness towards her suspension and said that she wanted to take responsibility for her actions and that she only used the drug to deal with the grief of losing her mother.

(WADA) World Anti-Doping Agency has banned the use of marijuana in competition from 11:59 pm the day before the competition up until its conclusion. The USADA, a signatory of WADA, similarly considers marijuana a drug of abuse as well as a performance-enhancing drug, which ultimately led to Richardson’s suspension.


Popular Athletes Suspended for Marijuana Use in Sports

Michael Phelps

The interesting thing about the Michael Phelps incident is that he never actually tested positive for THC. USA Swimming, the governing body for swimming in the U.S, deemed it sufficient evidence of Phelps’ violation when a picture of the swimmer at a party surfaced in 2008. Phelps was suspended for 3 months despite the clear lack of concrete evidence in order to ‘send a strong message’.

Larry Sanders

Larry Sanders played center for the recently crowned 2021 NBA Champions, Milwaukee Bucks. In mid- 2014, Sanders tested positive for THC and was suspended for 5 games. He tested positive for THC yet again in early 2015 and was suspended for 10 games. During his suspension, Sanders used his time advocating for the use of medicinal marijuana among athletes.

Emanuel Newton

Newton is a retired mixed martial arts fighter who tested positive for THC in 2015, leading to a 3-month suspension from competition. The Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation, the body that suspended him, considers marijuana a performance enhancing drug, and his fight loss after suspension only served to solidify their argument.


Should Weed Be Banned?

There is compelling evidence that marijuana/THC is not necessarily a performance enhancing drug but, despite this, the World Anti-Doping Agency and its signatories can justify the ban of weed from competitive sport by stating that it has adverse effects on athletes’ health. WADA has also stated that the use of marijuana by athletes violates the spirit of sport that should be maintained by athletes, most importantly, respect for the rule of law.

This is further buttressed by the fact that the use of marijuana is still illegal in most parts of the world, including most countries that participate in the Olympics. This is, however, considered by critics to be a hypocritical stance since drugs such as alcohol are not included in the prohibited list, yet it has been proven scientifically that alcohol has more adverse effects on a person’s health.

One could argue that marijuana should be perceived like any other drugs people use for a myriad of reasons. For example, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. It should be regulated, but its use should certainly not lead to such dire consequences for athletes.

The debate around this issue has come at a particularly interesting time in history; when the general perception around marijuana has shifted drastically. The recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in Canada, several states in the United States, and numerous nations across the world. As such, the use of weed by Richardson to deal with grief should have never led to a ban.

Further, it is imperative that WADA, its signatories, and affiliates consider behavioral effects caused by the use of marijuana. This is because the chemical properties found in THC may appear in urine above the prescribed limit on the day that a test is administered, making it an unreliable measure for its suitability in competitive sports. 

Nonetheless, WADA’s list of prohibited substances is reviewed annually based on input from scientific and medical researchers to ensure that doping practices evolve in accordance with current scientific findings. The research on the effect of the use of marijuana on athletic performance is limited, leaving regulative bodies with the discretion to make arbitrary decisions, as witnessed in the Richardson case.


Nonetheless, the question still begs, does Sha’Carri Richardson have recourse at the moment? The answer is; yes and no. Athletes do have an opportunity to appeal a positive test, but, in this case, Richardson will not be appealing the decision.

Advocates for the legalization and use of marijuana amongst athletes can only hope that further scientific/medical research will lead to the easing of regulatory policies as well as the perception of marijuana/THC within the athletic community.