World Anti-Doping Agency Retains Ban On Marijuana In Sports

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The World Anti-Doping Agency is likely to retain a ban on the use of marijuana by athletes, despite pressure on the agency to change its policy on cannabis after U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was barred from the Summer Olympic Games last year.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal published on Monday, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will keep cannabis on its list of banned substances for 2023. With the decision to continue the ban on cannabis by the governing body charged with preventing doping in international sports, athletes who test positive for cannabis in competition will face suspension from eligibility.

Last year, WADA announced that it would conduct a scientific review to determine if cannabis should remain on the list of banned substances. The review was initiated with the encouragement of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, athletes and U.S. politicians after Richardson was kept off the 2021 U.S. Olympic team following a positive test for THC at a qualifying event.

Richardson’s suspension, which came despite any conclusive evidence showing that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, caused an uproar in the United States, where a majority of adults live in a state with legal medical or recreational pot. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary at the time, described Richardson as “an inspiring young woman” while adding that it was not appropriate for President Joseph Biden to comment on the suspension itself.

Despite the announced review of the status of cannabis, WADA appears likely to retain the drug on its list of prohibited substances for 2023. The agency’s Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group has expressed support for retaining the ban, saying that based on the available scientific evidence, cannabis meets the criteria to be included on the list. The group, which provides advice to WADA leadership, has released a draft version of the 2023 list that retains cannabis on the list of prohibited substances. WADA noted that the list is provisional and will be finalized later this month.

“The draft 2023 Prohibited List is still under consideration,” a WADA spokesman said in a statement. “WADA’s Executive Committee will be asked to approve the final version of the List during its 23 September meeting, with the List itself being published on or before 1 October and coming into force on 1 January.”

Netherlands Calls For Cannabis’ Removal From Banned Substances List
Officials from the Netherlands have called for removing THC and other cannabinoids from the list of banned substances. The Dutch anti-doping agency published details of WADA’s draft list and included responses from Dutch authorities on its website.

“Cannabinoids most likely have a negative impact on athletic performance,” the agency wrote.

Other concerns raised by officials in the Netherlands include the possibility that the ban on cannabis will prevent athletes from using products with CBD, which some use to treat inflammation and pain.

But the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s stance on removing cannabis from the banned list is less clear. Last year, in a letter to U.S. politicians signed by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, the agency stated that the “rules concerning marijuana must change.” But in a statement sent on Friday, the WADA spokesman said, “to date neither the United States authorities nor the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has requested the removal of cannabis from the Prohibited List.”

“For almost a decade, USADA has advocated for WADA to change its approach to marijuana so a positive test is not a violation unless it was intentionally used to enhance performance or endangers the health or safety of competitors,” Tygart said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

However, cannabis remains on the prohibited list because many of WADA’s stakeholders around the world have determined that marijuana poses potential health risks during competition and violates the spirit of sport, Tygart wrote in his letter.