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Twitter Explodes After World Anti-Doping Agency Says It Will Review Ban of Cannabis at Olympics

© AFP 2021 / Marc BraibantPicture of the logo of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) taken on September 20, 2016 at the headquarter of the organisation in Montreal.
Picture of the logo of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) taken on September 20, 2016 at the headquarter of the organisation in Montreal. - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.09.2021
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The issue became the subject of heated debate after top US track and field sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson received a month-long ban and a subsequent suspension from the US’ team during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo after she tested positive for marijuana.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has announced it will discuss whether cannabis should remain a prohibited substance for athletes. In a statement posted on its website, the agency said its executive Committee would review the status of cannabis in 2022, noting that the ban will remain in place until 2023.
Currently, WADA prohibits the use of "all natural and synthetic" cannabinoids (compounds found in cannabis) as well as products (food, drinks) containing them during sports competitions. The only exception is Cannabidioil (CBD). The agency has never cited reasons for its decision to ban athletes from using cannabis, but WADA’s list of prohibited substances includes the following criteria:
1.
It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance;
2.
It represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete;
3.
It violates the spirit of sport (this definition is outlined in the Code);

Sha’Carri Richardson

As mentioned earlier, the debate on the use of cannabis by athletes during competitions sprang up after top US athlete Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a banned chemical compound found in cannabis.

The athlete later revealed that she had used marijuana in order to cope with the loss of her biological mother, who passed away a month before the Tokyo Games.

"I apologise for the fact that I didn't even know how to control my emotions or deal with that during that time. Don't judge me, because I am human, I just happen to run a little faster. I greatly apologise if I let you guys down - and I did. This will be the last time the US comes home without a gold in the 100m", the 21-year-old said.

Athletes who test positive for marijuana may receive a four-year ban, but the punishment is reduced to one month if an individual can prove the substance was not used to enhance his or her performance.

The subsequent ban prevented Richards, a top contender in win women’s 100 metres, from taking part in the competition at Tokyo Games. She would have competed in in the women's 4 × 100 relay, but was not included in the team by US coaches. Her suspension received widespread criticism both from individuals, organizations and even US Congressmen.

Critics pointed out that the 21-year-old had taken cannabis in Oregon, where the use of marijuana is allowed both for recreational and medicinal use. However, US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had to implement the ban, as being the signatory to the WADA code, it is required to follow the agency’s rules.
"WADA needs to better define what is and is not actually performance enhancing and ensure its rules achieve the supposed aim of a level playing field. The same countries top the medal table regardless of its rules, so the concept of a 'level' playing field is a dream not a reality", says John Nauright, Dean of the Richard J. Bolte, Sr. School of Business, Mount St. Mary’s University, Mount Saint Mary College.

WADA’s Potential Decision May Open Pandora’s Box

Dr Gregory Ioannidis, a sports lawyer, believes that the removal of cannabis from the list of banned substances is a "red line" that must not be crossed.

Ionnidis argues that by permitting the use of cannabis for athletes, WADA will violate the basic premises of its code - to protect athletes' health.

"If such proposal could be implemented, it would open Pandora’s box and it would most certainly present WADA with several legal and ethical issues. Notwithstanding the fact that regular or heavy use of cannabis may create addiction, it may also increase the risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia".

"There are obviously other risks too such feeling wheezy or out of breath, developing a painful cough and making symptoms of asthma worse. In addition, if such proposal were to be implemented, it may cause friction and possible legal challenges against WADA, as the performance enhancement effects on some sports, may destroy the level playing field, which is another premise upon which the WADA Code operates", he said.

Public is Divided

The news has caused a storm on social media, with users being divided on the issue. Many were staunchly opposed to removal of cannabis from the list prohibited substances.
Others said it would be impossible, citing legal and moral issues.
Many were concerned that cannabis would be used to hide the use of other banned substances.
Others claimed that even if the reform had been implemented before the Tokyo Games, it wouldn’t have helped Sha’Carri Richardson to win.
However, there were many netizens who backed WADA’s announcement.
Some users even joked that the agency should "legalise" all banned substances.
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