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Miss Universe Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization

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Before being crowned Miss Universe 2018, the successful contestant from the Philippines was asked to weigh in on the legalization of marijuana.

“I’m for it being used in a medical use,” Catriona Gray said on Sunday during the pageant’s question-and-answer round. “But not so for recreational use.”

“Because I think if people were to argue, ‘What about alcohol and cigarettes?’ Well, everything is good but in moderation.”

Thousands of people have been killed in the bloody Philippine “drug war” that has been waged under President Rodrigo Duterte, who says he does support medical cannabis.

Lawmakers in the nation are currently considering medical marijuana legislation.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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U.S. Sports Authority Backs ‘Liberalization’ Of Marijuana Laws, Official Tells Lawmakers

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A representative of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) this week shifted blame for the Olympics suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive marijuana test, saying the national sports organization is “heartbroken” over the case and supports “liberalization” of current bans but claiming that its hands are tied with respect to enforcing international drug policy.

Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for track and field, and emeritus chair of USADA, appeared before a federal commission at a hearing on international sports on Wednesday and was pressed by panel co-chair Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) about the controversial suspension.

Cohen, who earlier in the day blasted the penalty for Richardson and urged federal action to end cannabis prohibition at a separate congressional hearing, said the case that’s made national headlines “is such a shame,” especially considering that the runner admitted to using marijuana in a legal state after learning about the death of her mother.

He also repeated a joke he made hours before that cannabis is “not a performance enhancing drug unless you’re involved in the hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July at Coney Island.”

Moses replied that the Richardson situation “was one of the most heartbreaking cases that we’ve had this year.”

“Although there was a handful of similar cases from the beginning of the year—and so it was not the first case of its kind—we’re heartbroken at USADA to have to adjudicate any of these cases because, in many cases, there’s lots of reasons for drug use,” he told Cohen and other members at the hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission).

Moses said the athlete “admitted what she did” and was aware of the potential consequences under international policy but argued that USADA has “always been on the side of more liberalization of the marijuana laws with respect to doping.”

“We’ve moved and promoted changing the regulations, bringing the level [of permissible THC concentrations in drug tests] higher to eliminate cases of out-of-competition use, which in certain states is legal,” he said. “It’s not banned out of competition. However, she just got caught within that window. We have been trying everything we can to get the world to understand how this drug fits into the scheme of things.”

The sports official also noted that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is a comprehensive body comprised of “650 organizations,” and “neither the United States Olympic Committee nor USADA nor the [USA Track & Field] have anything to do with making up the rules.”

“In most countries in the world, it’s still an illegal substance,” Moses said. “And there’s countries in the world that under no circumstance will they ever be as liberal as we are.”

But WADA recently 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.

At the hearing, Cohen said he recognized that enacting reform is an onerous task, and it’s one that he’s faced over his career as a member of Congress.

“Making good laws like is slow as molasses, and the cultural lag that we experience is awful,” he said. “I know it’s tough, and I hope you’ll put your best efforts” toward changing the marijuana policy at the international sports level.

“Because it’s the law and because it’s the rule doesn’t mean it’s right,” the congressman said. “They should be changed.”

Advocates appreciated that Cohen’s questioning got USADA to publicly flesh out its position on marijuana use by athletes.

“USADA told Congress, right to its face, that the policy of prohibition and stigmatization of cannabis consumers is wrong,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The remaining question is when will the House take action to end the mandate that organizations like USADA, the DEA, ONDCP, and others stop criminalizing otherwise law-abiding Americans?”

Since Richardson’s suspension was announced, there’s been widespread and largely bipartisan criticism of the rules, especially as more states move to legalize. But officials have consistently pitted blame on other agencies and governments for enacting the prohibitionist policy in the first place.

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.

USADA wrote that “President Joe Biden described the way forward best when he said” that the “rules are rules,” but those regulations may need to be reevaluated.

Also this month, the White House press secretary—like USADA—expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition.

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.

Chuck Schumer Discusses Strategy For Getting Enough Votes To Pass Marijuana Legalization Bill

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World Anti-Doping Agency Says U.S. Bears Responsibility For Marijuana Ban That Led To Richardson’s Suspension

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is making clear that the U.S. has played a key role in placing marijuana on the list of prohibited substances for international athletes—and it still has a seat at the table if it wants a policy change.

In a letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—who recently reached out to WADA about the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive cannabis test—the global organization provided background on why marijuana was included in the banned substances list in the first place and explained why it couldn’t unilaterally reverse the punishment.

While WADA consistently reviews and updates the prohibited drug list, it said that decisions are made based on consensus among representatives of participating governments. It stressed that “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 from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. “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.”

That point was also made by the first president of WADA, Richard Pound, in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.

“The U.S. was a leader in saying—and this was the [Office of National Drug Control Policy] saying this—’in our view, marijuana is the entry-level drug. If you can keep people from using marijuana, they don’t graduate to cocaine and heroin and some of the other the other chemical variations of these things,’” he said.

In the new letter, WADA wrote that “the argument that some have advanced indicating that U.S. anti-doping stakeholders are bound by antiquated thinking regarding the Prohibited List is not supported by the facts.”

“The consultative process in place allows for modifications to the Prohibited List and the Code, annually,” it continued. “In fact, over time, as your letter recognizes, several such changes have occurred, and there is nothing preventing additional changes consistent with the process I have described.”

Part of the consultative process is based on recommendations from WADA’s Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group. The letter emphasizes that the U.S. is overrepresented on that body, with three of its 12 seats—”including an official with more than two decades experience at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.” The country also “has had greater representation” on WADA’s separate Health, Medical and Research (HMR) Committee “than any other nation.”

“While the United States does not currently serve on WADA’s Executive Committee, it has represented its 42-nation region more than any other nation in WADA’s history (seven years),” it continues. “An important fact for the U.S. Congress to know about this process is that there are more representatives from the United States advising WADA on these scientific issues than from any other nation in the world. These decisions are not reached in a vacuum.”

In other words, criticism from Americans over the marijuana ban should not solely target WADA but should take into account the fact that the U.S. itself bears significant responsibility for setting and maintaining the global prohibition.

The letter further states that while WADA sympathizes “with the circumstances of this case” and applauds “Ms. Richardson’s accountability for accepting that the rules are in place for athletes worldwide, WADA simply plays a coordinating role in the development and publication of the Prohibited List.”

“As you correctly noted in your letter, the testing of Ms. Richardson and her resulting suspension were administered and adjudicated by USADA. WADA is not a party to that particular matter and, therefore, simply is not in position to vacate the results of Ms. Richardson’s test in Oregon, the 30-day suspension imposed by USADA, nor the decisions of USA Track and Field regarding her participation at the Tokyo Olympics.”

Separately, The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) also responded to the letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez last week. It asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.”

USADA had previously expressed sympathy last week for Richardson and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but the latest statement explicitly calls for a policy change.

Meanwhile, the White House ONDCP is also working to secure a meeting with WADA about cannabis policies on the international sports stage. The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Biden administration intends to discuss issues “including the timeframe for testing, and the basis for the consideration of cannabis as a performance enhancing drug.”

While WADA indicated that the U.S. has not strongly protested marijuana’s inclusion on the banned substances list and has historically advocated for such inclusion, USADA said in its letter that it “has argued for still more changes and will continue to advocate for changes going forward.”

Banka said in his new response on behalf of WADA that he was forwarding the congressional letter to various internal WADA decision-making committees and has “requested that your concerns be specifically examined during their ongoing review of the
Prohibited List.”

The organization noted that USADA amended its marijuana policy for domestic professional fighting that’s not subject to WADA rules. On that note, Nevada sports regulators voted last week to make it so athletes will no longer be penalized over a positive marijuana test, with members citing Richardson’s case during the meeting as an example of why the policy is inappropriate.

USADA wrote that “President Joe Biden described the way forward best when he said” that the “rules are rules,” but those regulations may need to be reevaluated and he’s proud of Richardson for how she responded to the situation.

Also last week, the White House press secretary—like USADA—expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition.

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 last week that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.”

Following Ocasio-Cortz and Raskin’s letter, a separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA on Friday to urge a policy change.

“We believe that cannabis does not meet the description of scientifically proven risk or harm to the athlete,” those 18 lawmakers wrote, “and the USADA is perpetuating stereotypes and rhetoric fueled by the racist War on Drugs by claiming its usage, in private use and outside of competition, violates the ‘spirit of the sport.’”

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.

Meanwhile, 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.”

For what it’s worth, a new poll from YouGov found that women are notably more likely to oppose Richardson’s suspension than men are.

Read the new statement from WADA on Richardson’s marijuana-related suspension below: 

2021 07 Letter From Wada Pr… by Marijuana Moment

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Top U.S. Sports Regulator Says Marijuana Policy ‘Must Change’ As White House Pursues Global Meeting

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The rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change,” the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said in a response letter to members of Congress on Friday following the suspension of runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive cannabis test. Separately, the White House is now reportedly seeking a meeting with international sports regulators to discuss the policy.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) recently sent a letter to the U.S. athletics governing body on the penalty against Richardson, who admitted to using marijuana in a legal state after learning about her mother’s death. Earlier this week, USADA expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but the latest statement, in a letter to the lawmakers, explicitly calls for a policy change.

At the same time, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is working to secure a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) about cannabis policies on the international sports stage. The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Biden administration intends to discuss issues “including the timeframe for testing, and the basis for the consideration of cannabis as a performance enhancing drug.”

ONDCP later on Friday sought to play down the report, tweeting that it is not seeking to pressure WADA to “loosen restrictions” or “rethink” cannabis policies for athletes but is merely seeking “additional information” on how those rules are carried out.

USADA, for its part, said in its letter to Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin, that it “agrees that Ms. Richardson’s exclusion from the Tokyo Olympic Games is a heartbreaking situation and that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules concerning marijuana must change.”

However, the organization said it and WADA are “in very different positions of authority and we sometimes have different views when it comes to what substances are included, or not included, on the WADA Prohibited List and what consequences result from a Positive Test.”

“The anti-doping rules are legislated by WADA based on the consensus of Stakeholders worldwide. USADA does not make or have a direct vote on the anti-doping rules but, as a WADA Code Signatory, we are required to enforce them,” it said. “During the Stakeholder comment phase of the rule-making process, USADA has advocated for more flexible and fair rules to address the use of marijuana by athletes.”

“While those rules have indeed become more flexible and fair over time, USADA has argued for still more changes and will continue to advocate for changes going forward. Because USADA is required to enforce the rules as written, however, it has gone to great lengths to ensure that all athletes are informed through our education programs of the risk and potential consequences of a positive marijuana test during competition.”

This represents the most forceful comments the nation’s top governing body on international sports has made since new broke of Richardson’s suspension. It also reveals that USADA has been pushing for a change prior to the high-profile suspension.

It said that funding could be jeopardized if the U.S. were to let Richardson compete in violation of rules mandating a 30-day ban under the UNESCO Convention Against Doping in Sport.

“Ms. Richardson’s one-month suspension was the absolute minimum sanction that USADA was permitted to impose under the Code. Anything less would have resulted in USADA being non-compliant with the WADA code,” it said. “Continued non-compliance by USADA could result in serious consequences to U.S. Athletes (inability to participate in the Olympics, World Championships and other International Competitions) and the U.S. Government (loss of seats on the WADA Foundation Board and WADA Committees and more importantly the international embarrassment to U.S. athletes that USADA’s noncompliance would cause under the UNESCO Convention and otherwise).”

“Given that Ms. Richardson voluntarily accepted the outcome, there is no longer any legal process to challenge it or to reverse it. Further, any decision by USADA to attempt to reverse Ms. Richardson’s one-month suspension would be futile. WADA, World Athletics or the IOC would have quickly appealed such a decision and may have resulted in a lengthier suspension for Ms. Richardson.”

The response letter also acknowledged that the origin of the marijuana ban was largely influenced by the U.S. government in the 1990s—something the first president of WADA touched on in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.

And while advocates have strongly opposed the penalty against Richardson, USADA said that questions still remain as to whether marijuana should be considered a performance enhancing drug, as it “has also been reported in scientific literature and anecdotally by athletes that marijuana can decrease anxiety, fear, depression and tension thereby allowing athletes to better perform under pressure and alleviating stress experienced immediately before and during competition.”

Even so, “USADA has consistently put forward recommendations that the rules addressing cannabis and cannabinoids should be more flexible and fair,” the letter says. And while some reforms have been enacted to lessen the severity of punishments for athletes who test positive for marijuana, USADA would “go still further in mitigating the harsh consequences of a positive marijuana case in a situation like Ms. Richardson’s.”

The organization noted that USADA amended its marijuana policy for domestic professional fighting that’s not subject to WADA rules. On that note, Nevada sports regulators voted on Wednesday to make it so athletes will no longer be penalized over a positive marijuana test, with members citing Richardson’s case during the meeting as an example of why the policy is inappropriate.

“Simply put, USADA will continue to be very active in its efforts to change how marijuana is addressed under the WADA Code and Prohibited List,” the new letter states. “Given USADA’s inability to unilaterally change the rules governing marijuana in sport, USADA has gone to great lengths to ensure that all athletes are informed of the risks and potential consequences of a positive marijuana test during a competition.”

The letter concludes with a section titled “The way forward.”

USADA wrote that “President Joe Biden described the way forward best when he said” that the “rules are rules,” but those regulations may need to be reevaluated and he’s proud of Richardson for how she responded to the situation.

“So is USADA,” the group said. “USADA will continue to advocate for rule changes which would better address tragic situations like Ms. Richardson’s.”

Richardson’s suspension for using marijuana in a legal state after learning news of her mother’s death has elicited widespread calls for reform in the governing bodies of the Olympics.

On Wednesday, the White House press secretary—like USADA—expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters last week, 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 this week that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.”

A bipartisan collection of members of Congress slammed Richardson’s punishment last week, with Ocasio-Cortz and Raskin sending the scathing letter to USADA and WADA on behalf of key House subcommittee they respectively co-chair and chair, urging the bodies to ”strike a blow for civil liberties and civil rights by reversing this course you are on.”

A separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA on Friday to urge a policy change.

“We believe that cannabis does not meet the description of scientifically proven risk or harm to the athlete,” those 18 lawmakers wrote, “and the USADA is perpetuating stereotypes and rhetoric fueled by the racist War on Drugs by claiming its usage, in private use and outside of competition, violates the ‘spirit of the sport.’”

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.

Meanwhile, 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.”

For what it’s worth, a new poll from YouGov found that women are notably more likely to oppose Richardson’s suspension than men are.

Read the new statement from USADA on Richardson’s marijuana-related suspension below: 

USADA letter on Richardson … by Marijuana Moment

How U.S. Bullying In The 1990s Led To The Olympics Marijuana Ban Behind Richardson’s Suspension

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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