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Are Olympic Drug Rules Outdated? Is It Time to Move On?

Recently, Sha’Carri Richardson, the current fastest woman in America and the sixth-fastest woman of all time, was found ineligible to compete in the 100m at the Olympics after THC was found in her system. Richardson admitted to smoking marijuana as she coped with the grief of losing her mother suddenly just before a big race. But despite being eligible to race in the 4x100m relay, the U.S. decided not to take her to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She has since apologized, as fans call for the ruling to be overturned, saying the Olympic drug rules are outdated.

Cannabis is slowly making its way out of criminal status to becoming a legal drug. In Canada, the Netherlands, and parts of the U.S., you can legally buy, sell and use cannabis. Yet, despite being decriminalized in a few other countries, the plant is still a controversial substance in many nations. That could be why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still includes THC on the list of banned substances and tests athletes for it during competition.

The debate around Sha’Carri

Many people are annoyed with the decision to keep Richardson out of the Olympic Games, especially considering her status as an elite athlete. But, on the other hand, some people believe rules are rules, and she made her bed by breaking them. The debate raged on Twitter all week.

Are the Olympic drug rules too harsh on marijuana?

Cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug and can even be considered the opposite. Effects of smoking marijuana include delayed motor skills, altered perception of time and lethargy. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules say THC is a substance of abuse, along with cocaine, heroin, and MDMA/ecstasy. Yet alcohol —which is often abused and has similar effects on the body as THC — is not on this list. Notably, the IOC removed CBD from the list in 2017 as it was found to have positive effects for athletes as they recover from injuries.

As the stigma around THC lifts and cannabis becomes legal in more parts of the world, perhaps the IOC will soon be forced to remove it from the banned list as well. If an athlete can legally buy and use the product in their home country or state, should using it still lead to their disqualification? Or should the rules consider the law of other nations?

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