The head of the international track and field organization World Athletics has joined the choir of sports officials who are calling for an reevaluation of marijuana penalties for Olympic athletes following the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive cannabis test.
Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a Olympics gold medal-winning runner himself, lamented the suspension and said it’s “sensible” for the governing bodies to take another look at the marijuana ban for athletes.
“Nothing is set in tablets of stone,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “You adapt and occasionally reassess.”
But while he said that Richardson’s punishment means “we have lost an outstanding talent,” he still said that the rules were properly enforced, even if those rules should change.
“I don’t want to sound like Joe Biden, but the rules are the rules and that is the way they have been interpreted,” he said, referencing comments the president made this month similarly expressing disappointment over the decision to suspend the star runner.
“It’s not an unreasonable moment to have a review” of the international marijuana policy, Coe said. According to Reuters, the official added that he has spoken to the chairman of the Athletics Integrity Unit about undertaking a formal review of current policies.
Coe is far from alone in saying it’s time to reconsider cannabis penalties in sports. Athletics officials and lawmakers alike have argued that Richardson’s suspension for using marijuana in a legal state after learning of her mother’s death highlights the need for reform.
Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for track and field, and emeritus chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), appeared before a congressional panel co-chaired by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) last week and said the runner’s punishment was “heartbreaking” and his organization has “always been on the side of more liberalization of the marijuana laws with respect to doping.”
Cohen, who also blasted the penalty for Richardson and urged federal action to end cannabis prohibition at a separate congressional hearing last week, said the case that’s made national headlines “is such a shame.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made clear in a letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) this month that the U.S. itself played a leading role in imposing the cannabis prohibition. And the first president of WADA, Richard Pound, made similar comments in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment, pointing to how the country essentially bullied the rest of the world in including cannabis on the banned substances list.
USADA also responded to the letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, and it asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.” USADA had previously expressed sympathy for Richardson and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but in that statement, it explicitly called for a policy change.
Also this month, the White House press secretary expressed sympathy for the runner and suggested reform may be appropriate.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters earlier this month, but she told CNN in the newer comments that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis, especially in light of the decision to bar the athlete from a second event that fell outside the scope of the 30-day suspension.
USA Track & Field also said recently that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.” And following Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin’s letter, a separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA last week to urge a policy change.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
World Anti-Doping Agency Reviews Marijuana Ban For Athletes Following Pushback On Richardson Suspension
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will conduct a scientific review of marijuana next year to determine whether it should continue an international ban on cannabis use by athletes.
WADA’s marijuana policy became a major focus this summer following the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson from participating in the Olympics over a positive THC test. The organization’s executive committee on Tuesday said it had accepted a recommendation from a drug list advisory board to reexamine the science on marijuana, which could inform a potential policy change.
In a press release, WADA said the panel agreed to conduct the review “following receipt of requests from a number of stakeholders.” It didn’t name those stakeholders, but numerous athletic leagues—as well as lawmakers and President Joe Biden—have suggested that the international marijuana ban for athletes should be reconsidered.
The organization added that cannabis will remain prohibited through 2022 while the review is underway.
WADA Executive Committee endorses recommendations of non-compliance of eight Anti-Doping Organizations ✒️
— WADA (@wada_ama) September 14, 2021
Richard Pound, who served as the first president of WADA, reacted to the news by telling Marijuana Moment that he’s “always in favor of a scientific review of any substance that is on the Prohibited List so that we can be acting on the basis of established facts, both as to the effects of the substance (if any) and the appropriate range of sanctions (if any).”
In an earlier interview, Pound told Marijuana Moment that the U.S. was “really quite adamant that [cannabis] was on the list” of prohibited substances when the ban was enacted in the 1990s.
Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) previously reached out to WADA about Richardson’s suspension and received a response in July that similarly explained how the U.S. has played a key role in placing marijuana on the list of prohibited substances for international athletes.
Richardson herself said last month that she’s hopeful that her suspension from participating in the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana will lead to an international policy change for athletes, and she says she would be “blessed” if that happens as a result of her punishment.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has expressed sympathy for Richardson and asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.” The White House press secretary—like USADA—also suggested that it may be time for a reevaluation of the cannabis prohibition.
USA Track & Field has similarly said that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) was among the lawmakers who’ve been critical of Richardson’s suspension. He argued in July that it is hypocritical that athletes would be penalized for using marijuana when alcohol use is largely tolerated. And he also said cannabis is only a performance enhancing drug in the context of food eating competitions.
At a separate federal commission hearing on international sports in July, a representative of USADA said in response to questioning by Cohen that the organization is “heartbroken” over Richardson’s case and supports “liberalization” of current bans.
Meanwhile, advocates have broadly embraced internal marijuana policy reforms at other major professional athletic organizations, arguing that they are long overdue especially given the ever-expanding legalization movement.
NFL’s drug testing policy changed demonstrably last year as part of a collective bargaining agreement, for example. Under the policy, NFL players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana.
In a similar vein, the MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Baseball players can consume marijuana without risk of discipline, but officials clarified last year that they can’t work while under the influence and can’t enter into sponsorship contracts with cannabis businesses, at least for the time being.
A temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana amid the coronavirus pandemic may soon become permanent, the league’s top official said in December. Rather than mandate blanket tests, Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”
Last month it was announced that the online marijuana marketplace Weedmaps is teaming up with NBA star Kevin Durant for a multi-year partnership that’s aimed at destigmatizing cannabis and showcasing the plant’s potential value for “athlete wellness and recovery.”
Marijuana icon Snoop Dogg also recently argued that sports leagues need to stop testing players for marijuana and allow to them to use it as an alternative to prescription opioids.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
Drake, Killer Mike And Other Celebs Push Biden To Issue Mass Marijuana Pardons
A group of more than 150 celebrities, athletes, politicians, law enforcement professionals and academics signed a letter that was delivered to President Joe Biden on Tuesday, urging him to issue a “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to all people with non-violent federal marijuana convictions.
This comes as the administration is actively encouraging about 1,000 people who were temporarily placed on home confinement for federal drug offenses to fill out clemency application forms.
The new letter—signed by high-profile stars like Drake, Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Deion Sanders, Kevin Garnett, Al Harrington and more—says that the war on drugs “has crushed many souls and countless futures, while spreading intolerable levels of mistrust and dysfunction between minority communities and those sworn to protect them.”
“The harms of incarceration are obvious, but the pains of federal marijuana convictions transcend prison walls, making it more difficult for someone to get a job, access affordable housing, and receive an education,” it continues. “A conviction can forever limit an individual’s constitutional rights and can put the American dream further out of reach for an entire family.”
It also references Biden’s comments on the campaign trail supporting cannabis decriminalization and committing to expunge marijuana convictions.
“Enough is enough. No one should be locked up in federal prison for non-violent marijuana offenses,” the letter, which was coordinated by civil rights activist Weldon Angelos, who received a presidential pardon for his own cannabis conviction from then-President Donald Trump, says. “No one should continue to bear the scarlet letter of a federal conviction for marijuana offenses of the past.”
“Relief from the federal war on marijuana would not only be just, it would also be good policy by advancing public safety and economic prosperity. A general pardon poses a low risk to the American public by expunging records and releasing the last remaining prisoners of federal marijuana prohibition. Those who will have their sentences commuted comprise a small percentage of the federal prison population and are incarcerated only for non-violent marijuana offenses. All other beneficiaries of a categorical pardon represent an even lower risk, since these people are already living peacefully among their neighbors.”
The letter—which was also signed by 2 Chainz, Ty Dolla $ign and T.I.—goes on to says there’s precedent for the relief, pointing out actions taken by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in the 1970s to categorically forgive Americans who avoided the draft for the Vietnam War.
Rapper Ralo, who is serving an eight-year sentence for a non-violent marijuana offense, is among the people that the letter signers say is deserving of relief. In a press release, Ralo thanked the hip hop community “for supporting my clemency because it’s just not right that corporations are allowed to violate federal law and become millionaires while people like myself go to prison for years.”
“This is hypocrisy,” he said. “But I am hopeful that Joe Biden will honor his campaign promise and grant us clemency, without delay, so that we can return home to our families and communities.”
The letter concludes by telling Biden that “a general clemency will send a clear and powerful message that our country is truly taking a new course on criminal justice policy and practice.”
Other signatories include former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R/L), former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Mark Holden of Koch Industries, clemency recipient Alice Johnson and state lawmakers in the Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas legislatures. Former federal prosecutors and other law enforcement professionals also signed on.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing last month that Biden is “exploring multiple avenues to provide relief to certain nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power.”
The administration is “working hard every day to reform our justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy, give people a chance at a better future,” she said. “As part of this, the president is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are incarcerated—too many are black and brown.”
Psaki added at the time that there was nothing actionable to preview at that point, but said the president is “looking at a range of avenues” for relief. The fact that, as a senator, Biden played a key role in enacting punitive drug laws that contributed to the mass incarceration he’s now considering steps to resolve did not come up during the exchange.
Biden has faced criticism from drug policy reform advocates who’ve grown frustrated that he’s yet to make good on campaign promises such as decriminalizing marijuana. While his opposition to adult-use legalization remains a challenge on its own, they feel he should at least take steps to enact modest reform.
The president also campaigned on expunging prior cannabis records and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws.
Since taking office, however, his administration has not made progress on any of those pledges and has instead fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and sought to extend a budget provision that has blocked Washington, D.C. from legalizing cannabis sales.
In April, Psaki was pressed on Biden’s clemency promise for people with federal marijuana and said that process will start with modestly rescheduling cannabis—a proposal that advocates say wouldn’t actually accomplish what she’s suggesting.
Moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act, as Biden proposed on the campaign trail, wouldn’t facilitate mass clemency given that being convicted for crimes related to drugs in that slightly lower category—which currently includes cocaine—also carries significant penalties.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said during a recent interview that Biden could and should use executive authority to end federal marijuana prohibition on his own—but the two of them have “differences” when it comes to drug policy. There are, however, legal questions about whether a president could actually legalize cannabis unilaterally given existing statutes.
Read the full letter to Biden below:
Biden Opposes Marijuana Legalization Because He’s From The ‘Reefer Madness Generation,’ Neil deGrasse Tyson Says
Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t necessarily surprised that President Joe Biden is opposed to legalizing marijuana. He is, after all, part of the “Reefer Madness generation,” the astrophysicist said.
During a recent episode of his podcast StarTalk, Tyson brought on Harvard University neuroscientist Staci Gruber to talk about the intersection of cannabis science, policy and sports. They discussed why athletic leagues have largely opted to ban marijuana use—a rule that led to the widely criticized Olympics suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson this summer, for example.
— Dr. Staci Gruber (@drstacigruber) September 3, 2021
To understand the sports ban, it’s important to look at the broader origins of marijuana prohibition in the U.S., Gruber said. Despite the historic use of cannabis as a medicine, it was banned and demonized during during a period of hysteria driven by the 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness,” when the nation “really fell under this spell” that marijuana was dangerous and warranted criminalization.
While many myths about cannabis have been debunked and there’s a growing scientific literature demonstrating its therapeutic value, the government—and sports associations—have stalled on enacting reform that reflects that reality.
StarTalk co-host Chuck Nice pointed out that while Biden has emphasized the need to follow the science when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, the same can’t be said with respect to his marijuana policy position. The president remains opposed to federally legalizing cannabis.
Tyson said that makes sense “because he’s the Reefer Madness generation—that’s why, that’s why.”
Biden was born just six years after the cannabis propaganda movie came out.
Of course, while older demographics are less inclined to support adult-use legalization, its popularity has continued to increase across the board as more states have enacted reform and reefer madness has subsided. And so activists remain frustrated that Biden has yet to fully evolve on the issue, especially given the significant support for ending prohibition among Democrats.
To Biden’s credit, on the subject of sports and cannabis, he did say in July that the rules banning Olympic athletes from competition for marijuana should potentially change.
Tyson’s expertise might be in astrophysics, but he has taken a special interest in drug policy. Last month, for example, he wondered on his podcast whether non-human animals willingly take psychedelic mushrooms and whether eating enough cicadas infected by hallucinogenic fungi would create a psychoactive effect.
He also told TMZ in 2018 that he doesn’t think people should smoke marijuana in space.
The popular scientific figure endorsed cannabis legalization in 2017 in response to a question submitted by Marijuana Moment’s editor, arguing that “relative to other things that are legal, there’s no reason for [cannabis] to ever have been made illegal in the system of laws.”
However, Tyson has also said that he doesn’t partake in recreational use himself.