When authorities fall out of step with society, false starts to Olympic dreams are inevitable

A favorite to medal in the 100-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics, Sha'Carri Richardson will be forced to miss her signature event because of pot.
A favorite to medal in the 100-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics, Sha'Carri Richardson will be forced to miss her signature event because of pot.

When it comes to cannabis, society and those tasked with regulating society have a hard time seeing eye to eye.

This divergence was put on display again earlier this month when track star Sha'Carri Richardson was given a one-month suspension for testing positive for THC. A favorite to medal in the 100-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics, Richardson will be forced to miss her signature event. The suspension was handed down two weeks after Richardson won that event at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month in Eugene, Oregon.

Cannabis is legal in Oregon, and Richardson is of legal age, but none of that matters because the World Anti-Doping Agency considers THC to be a prohibited substance. It should be noted that THC isn't considered a performance-enhancing substance, like steroids, but rather classified as a substance of abuse by WADA, which it defines as something "frequently abused in society outside the context of sport."

Basically, because cannabis is still seen as something that can only be abused, it's acceptable in WADA's eyes for it to be banned in sport.

But is cannabis really still viewed in that light? Not in Oregon, where Richardson was tested. Not here in Washington, or in any of the 17 other states that have legalized recreational cannabis. It's not viewed that way in the court of public opinion either, as evidenced by Richardson's first tweet after the suspension. That tweet — which said "I am human" and nothing else — received more than 550,000 likes and more than 91,000 retweets in its first three days online.

Athletes and celebrities gave statements of support, scathing editorials were published, and Richardson's biggest sponsors stood by her.

President Joe Biden, though, said, "the rules are the rules."

Biden's not wrong: The rules are the rules, but also, the rules are a mess. THC is banned by WADA because cannabis is "frequently abused in society," but WADA no longer bans CBD, which comes from the same plant. Just like how THC is banned by the United States, but CBD is not banned in the United States, unless it comes from cannabis. When it comes from hemp, which the United States government considers to be a different plant, then it's allowed.

Confused? So am I. But these are the rules, and the rules are the rules. Even if the rules are impossible to understand and rapidly becoming not the rules. ♦

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