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World Anti-Doping Agency to reconsider cannabis as a banned substance in 2022

Sha’Carri Richardson has returned to competition since her 30-day suspension, which prevented her from competing in the Tokyo Olympics. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Less than three months after American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson lost her spot in the Tokyo Olympics following a positive marijuana test, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it will review the status of cannabis on its banned substance list.

“I am pleased with the decisions that were taken today by the Executive Committee on a range of key topics,” WADA President Witold Banka said in a statement after a Tuesday meeting that produced the decision. “These will help further strengthen the global anti-doping program and the protection of clean sport.”

In a summary of its meeting, WADA said it will review the status of cannabis “following receipt of requests from a number of stakeholders.” It will initiate the review next year and said its current policy prohibiting cannabis use in competition will continue in 2022.

The review comes after Richardson punched her ticket to Tokyo in June by winning the 100-meter final at the U.S. Olympic trials in 10.86 seconds. Shortly after, a positive marijuana test nullified her result and precluded her from participating in the Summer Games after she accepted a 30-day ban. Richardson said she had smoked marijuana to help cope with the stress of her mother’s recent death. WADA tests athletes for substances of abuse during competition and lists THC as one of those, alongside cocaine, heroin and MDMA/ecstasy.

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WADA, which has debated whether marijuana should be prohibited since the 1980s, updates its list of prohibited substances each year. But Richardson’s fate prompted a fresh wave of criticism from some athletes, fans and politicians who view its policy as outdated, misguided and a relic of the U.S. war on drugs.

WADA officials cited that history when asked about potential changes during a pre-Olympics news conference in July.

“We are always open to adjust the rules, to review the standards and the rules, but I can say about [the Richardson] case that I agree with your President Biden, who said the rules are the rules in that case,” Banka said.

Although WADA has become more lenient, relaxing its rules in 2013 to make it harder for athletes who use marijuana to test positive and reducing the length of the suspension, some researchers and marijuana advocates say those measures don’t go far enough.

Sue Sisley, an Arizona-based physician and marijuana researcher, previously told The Washington Post that WADA “should be studying this just the way the NFL did,” adding: “We need science to lead the way here, and so far there’s no science to banning cannabis. The best approach would be for the Olympic officials to just remove that from testing. We shouldn’t be testing for this anymore.”

Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.