Twenty-one-year old Sha’Carri Richardson is considered one of the fastest women in history since 2019 when she broke 100-metre sprint record with 10.75 seconds. Nevertheless, Richardson isn’t participating in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to using marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother.
Earlier this year in January, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made the decision to leave cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin off the list of prohibited substances. Considered 'recreational drugs', the agency now includes them on the list of 'Substances of Abuse' whenever they are detected out of competition and it’s evident that their use isn’t related to athletic performance. The change means that the limitation on the athlete’s period of disqualification goes from between two and four years to between one and three months. But even with the change, the American sprinter has been left out of the biggest sporting event of the year.
According to Reuters, Richardson used marijuana in Oregon (where recreational cannabis is legal) a few days after the qualifying trials for the Games on learning of the death of her mother. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) sanctioned Richardson by suspending her for one month - the minimum possible - during which WADA considers cases in which an athlete demonstrates that he or she has satisfactorily followed a substance abuse programme approved by the anti-doping organisation, which is responsible for the management of results. This one-month disqualification means that the athlete can’t participate in the 100-metre race; according to a report in Leafly magazine, however, there is still the possibility of competing in the 4x100-metre relay if the agency backdates the month-long ban to the day of the anti-doping test.
The elimination of the Texan athlete from the competition is a kick in the teeth for the American public, who saw her as one of their best chances to gain medals. Even the Democratic group in the House of Representatives (led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) sent a letter to the USADA asking them to reconsider the sprinter's suspension. "The prohibition of marijuana is a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties," stated the letter sent to the US anti-doping agency. “Their decision lacks any scientific basis. It’s rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on her Twitter account.
But the USADA hasn’t had a change of heart. "The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart lamented on NBC's ‘Today’ show. “I just want to take responsibility for my actions; I know what I did, I know what I’m supposed to do, what I’m not allowed to do, and I still made that decision,” stated the Texan athlete.
While the consumption of THC continues to cause problems for athletes, many already use CBD in a standardised way - both to cope with competition stress and to relieve pain and inflammation since WADA eliminated it from the list of prohibited substances in sport in 2018. According to a report published in the magazine Complete Sports, several elite athletes consume CBD. Among them are triathlete Sam Long (who is in the habit of meditating with essential oils, taking hot baths with CBD products and taking CBD drops after training to avoid inflammation), and Olympic gold medallist Gwen Jorgensen, who uses it to sleep when she has night training.