Sha’Carri Richardson ran 100 meters faster than any other woman at the U.S. Olympic trials, but she won’t be able to compete in the event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo after testing positive for marijuana.
There are so, so many things wrong with this. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which officially announced Richardson’s month-long suspension on Friday, should be ashamed for how they’ve handled the situation. More importantly, they should change their policies to ensure more athletes aren’t subjected to an unnecessary punishment for using a substance that is obviously not going to provide a competitive edge.
And while the situation seems fairly absurd on its face, it actually gets worse the deeper you go.
Start with the fact that the USADA doesn’t actually classify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, as a performance-enhancing drug. But the USADA—whose sole purpose, ostensibly, is to ensure the integrity of athletic events—tests athletes for THC anyway because it regards marijuana as “a ‘Substance of Abuse’ because it is frequently used in society outside the context of sport.”
In the statement announcing Richardson’s suspension, the USADA acknowledged that “Richardson’s…use of cannabis occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance.”
In other words, Richardson’s positive test had no bearing on the fact that she out-raced every other American woman at the Olympic trials—which were held in Eugene, Oregon, where marijuana is legal. Richardson engaged in legal activity that did not bestow upon her an unfair competitive advantage…and yet she’s been suspended anyway.