The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said the US is largely responsible for marijuana’s place on its list of prohibited substances, and that it has the power to push for its removal if it so chooses.
WADA’s statement comes in response to a letter from several prominent US lawmakers seeking clarity on the suspension of American runner Sha’Carri Richardson for a positive THC test, which has been roundly criticized by celebrities and politicians on both sides of the aisle. The anti-doping body provided information on why marijuana is included as a banned substance and detailed why it’s unable to unilaterally decide to remove it from the list.
Rather, such decisions are based on consensus among the representatives of member nations and it claims that at “no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from U.S. stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List.”
“On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the U.S. has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List,” the letter, written by WADA president Witold Banka, reads. “The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the U.S. over nearly two decades, in particular from [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List.”
Decisions on which substances are prohibited are based on recommendations from WADA’s Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group, of which the US holds three of the twelve seats meaning it has greater representation on the panel than any other country. As such, Americans who wish to criticize the ban should look at the role of the US in maintaining the status quo over athlete’s use of cannabis. WADA, the letter emphasizes, merely plays a coordinating role.
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) also responded to the letter, sent by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), by agreeing that the rules prohibiting international athletes from using cannabis “must change.”
USADA had already said it sympathized with Richardson over her ban, but stopped short of endorsing a policy change on the issue. It has, however, recently amended its marijuana rules for domestic professional fighters who now no longer face a ban over a positive THC test.
The Biden administration appears to agree that a reevaluation of WADA’s rules prohibiting cannabis use may be overdue.
“The rules are the rules and everybody knows what the rules were going in. Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue”, the president said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki went a step further in a CNN interview by saying Richardson’s case shows there’s a need to “take another look” at WADA’s prohibition on marijuana.
If WADA removes marijuana from its list of banned substances, it would join several other sporting bodies that have decided athletes should no longer be penalized for using cannabis. The NFL not only scrapped the rules banning players from participating for a positive THC test, but did so for any positive drug test. In 2019, the MLB removed marijuana from its list of banned substances but does not allow players to work when intoxicated or enter into sponsorship agreements with marijuana businesses. The NBA instituted a temporary ban on testing players for cannabis last year and looks set to make the rule change permanent.