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Despite objections, WADA set to keep ban on marijuana for Olympians

The suspension that kept Sha’Carri Richardson from the Tokyo Olympics after winning the 100-meter race at the U.S. Olympic trials led to requests for WADA to reconsider its cannabis policy. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The World Anti-Doping Agency appears almost certain to keep cannabis on its list of banned substances, amid a continuing debate over the drug’s effect on athletic performance and the proper role of testing in Olympic and other top international athletic competitions.

A person with knowledge of the situation this week confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that cannabis remains on the list of banned substances for 2023 that will be approved at WADA’s executive committee meeting Sept. 23. Many athletes and sports officials have asked the agency to reconsider its cannabis rules, as attitudes about the drug have shifted in some countries.

Last year, American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson received a one-month suspension from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for marijuana at the U.S. Olympic trials, where she won the 100-meter race. The suspension cost Richardson, who admitted to using the drug days before her race, a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

The doping rules that cost Sha’Carri Richardson have a debated, political history

In a statement, WADA said an advisory board made up of experts from a number of fields reviewed cannabis’s place on the list at the request of anti-doping agencies from “a small number” of countries. The agency also pointed out that marijuana policies have been made less stringent in recent years, with higher thresholds for positive tests and shorter suspensions for violations — as short as a month if an athlete can prove the use was out of competition and not intended to enhance performance.

The statement also said USADA did not ask for cannabis to be removed from the list.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said WADA’s characterization of his organization’s position is misleading. Tygart said he does not believe athletes should be penalized for positive marijuana tests and that athletes should be held out of competition only if it can be proven they used cannabis to gain a significant competitive advantage or that the use created a health and safety risk.

He said even one-month suspensions such as Richardson’s are “unfair” because her cannabis use had nothing to do with her race.

Tygart added he would like to see WADA adopt a policy similar to what USADA helps run with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, under which fighters are no longer punished for positive marijuana tests unless it can be proven they were using cannabis to gain a competitive advantage in an event.

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