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Cannabis and the Olympics: Why is it Banned?

US glamourthlete Sha’Carri Richardson has bought cannabis onto the Olympic stage by default. The womens’ 100 m US champion was disqualified earlier this month from participating in the Tokyo Olympics because she tested positive for cannabis after winning the US trials. This has provoked an outpouring of support from her fans and the pro-cannabis lobby.

Time Magazine wrote:

For the first time in the Olympics 125-year modern history, elite athletes are being open about their use of cannabis products to prepare them for the world’s biggest stage in sports. Leading the charge is Olympic gold medalist and U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe, who incorporates CBD into her training routine using products from Mendi, a company founded by her sister Rachael Rapinoe and Brett Schwager.


3 Reasons why cannabis is banned at the Olympics

The presence of marijuana on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substance list has long been controversial. Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was originally stripped of his 1998 Olympic gold medal after testing positive for THC, but that decision was overturned since it wasn’t on the banned substance list at the time. USADA singles out three reasons why cannabinoids are banned: 

  • athletes could endanger themselves and others because of slower reaction times and poor executive function and decision making,
  • marijuana can be “performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines,” and 
  • the use of “illicit drugs that are harmful to health” is “not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.

None of these reasons seem to apply in Richardson’s case and even USADA’s statement on Richardson’s suspension acknowledges “her use of cannabis occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance.”


Richardson: cannabis is not-performance-enhancing


Everyone loses in the Richardson scandal

Richardson’s suspension is the rare Olympic drug scandal where everyone loses. The Games will be without a charismatic star in a signature event; her potential showdown with Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce—who won the 100-m at both the Beijing and Rio Games and in early June clocked the second fastest women’s 100-m in history, 10.63 seconds—created a compelling storyline. The Olympics lose out. Track and field, a sport seemingly forever tainted by drug scandals—of the raw performance-enhancing kind, or not—loses out. Fans lose out. Even her opponents lose out. Sure, the path to a medal becomes easier without Richardson in the field. But any win will forever be accompanied by a sort of hidden asterisk: what, history will wonder, would have happened if Richardson had raced?

But while the athletes have been using CBD leading up to the competition, they will not be able to bring with them to Japan the gummies and topical sticks they’ve been relying on for relief from the stress and strain of competing. Given the regulatory environment that makes taking products made from cannabis (including hemp) across international borders risky and Japan’s strict anti-cannabis laws, it’s safer to leave their CBD regimen at home.

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