U.S. track and field phenom Sha’Carri Richardson may not be able to represent her country at the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this month after failing a drug test for THC metabolites. The positive test result was announced on Friday by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which added that Richardson has accepted a one-month suspension for the rule violation.
“The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart in a statement from the agency.
Richardson won the women’s 100-meter event at the U.S. track and field trials held in Eugene, Oregon last month, a feat that should have earned her a spot on the Olympic squad. However, the 21-year-old athlete failed a drug test administered after the event, disqualifying her results and triggering the action by the USADA.
Marijuana Banned By Anti-Doping Agencies
Both the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the USADA follow the rules set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which bans all forms of cannabis except CBD. The USADA noted in its statement that the “2021 World Anti-Doping Code newly classifies THC as a “Substance of Abuse” because it is frequently used in society outside the context of sport.”
In an interview with NBC on Friday morning, Richardson said that she consumed marijuana after learning of her biological mother’s death while training for the Olympic trials in Oregon, where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use.
“I know what I did, I know what I’m supposed to do … and I still made that decision,” Richardson told NBC News. “I’m not making an excuse or looking for empathy in my case. However, being in that position in my life, finding out something like that … Dealing with the relationship I have with my mother, that definitely was a very heavy topic on me.”
“It sent me into a state of emotional panic,” she added, saying, “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”
Richardson also apologized to her family, friends, and her sponsors, saying, “I greatly apologize if I let you guys down, and I did.”
Under USADA rules, an athlete who tests positive for marijuana can be suspended from competition for up to two years. Athletes who demonstrate that the use of marijuana occurred outside of competition and not for performance-enhancing purposes are subject to a three-month suspension, which can be reduced to one month if the competitor completes a drug counseling program.
Cannabis Advocates Call For Change
In addition to the 2021 revision of the anti-doping policy on THC, in 2017 the WADA amended its regulations to remove CBD from the list of banned substances. But cannabis advocates argue that the changes don’t go far enough. Rachael Rapinoe, the CEO of Mendi, a CBD brand focused on recovery products for athletes, says that is time for athletic regulating agencies to approve all cannabis formulations, including those that contain THC.
“The use of high-quality cannabis products are healthier, more natural alternative methods of recovery than what is traditionally prescribed and used in sports medicine. I can tell you this from personal experience as a former professional athlete,” Rapinoe, who is the sister of U.S. Olympic soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe, wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “Cannabis consumption is legal in many states and its recovery uses are recognized by many elite sports organizations, including the Olympics organization with its recent inclusion of CBD for athlete recovery, as it alleviates very real ailments that athletes face including pain, inflammation, and the impact that a high-performance, high-pressure job has on mood and sleep.”
In a statement from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Erik Altieri, the executive director of the cannabis policy reform group, suggested that the decision to ban Richardson from the Olympic Games is unfair.
“Sha’Carri Richardson, like millions of her fellow Americans, turned to cannabis’ therapeutic benefits to help her cope with the tragic loss of her mother,” Altieri said. “To use this as a rationale for denying this athlete, who is otherwise competing at the top of her sport, the ability to represent the United States at the Tokyo Olympics should be an unacceptable outcome in this situation. Let Richardson race.”
Olympic Appearance Still Possible
Although Richardson has been disqualified from competing in Tokyo for the women’s 100-meter competition, she may still be able to race with the U.S.Olympic team in the women’s 4×100-meter relay. U.S.A Track and Field, the sport’s governing body, is responsible for making the decision on Richardson’s participation in that event, according to the New York Times.
Richardson told NBC she is eager to return to the track.
“This is just one game. I’m 21. I’m very young,” Richardson said. “Unlike most, I have plenty of games left in me to compete in and I have plenty of talent that backs me up because everything I do comes from me naturally: No steroids. … After my sanction is up I’ll be back and ready to compete.”