World Athletics President Sebastian Coe — a British gold-medal winning runner — may support the way the rules were applied to American runner Sha’Carri Richardson who was suspended from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for marijuana, but he says the episode also highlights the need for athletic programs — global and local — to re-evaluate whether cannabis truly is a performance-enhancing drug.
World Athletics is the governing body for all athletic sports. At this point, Coe believes, rethinking marijuana use is just the “sensible” thing to do.
“Nothing is set in tablets of stone,” he told The Associated Press. “You adapt and occasionally reassess.”
Richardson did not attend the Tokyo Olympics after a drug test came back positive for marijuana after a race. The drug is legal in many American states, an increasing number of countries and its been decriminalized in others. Richardson’s suspension wasn’t because the substance is still federally prohibited in the states, it happened because marijuana is still on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances.
That’s why Coe thinks it’s the perfect time for a re-evaluation. He has asked the Athletics Integrity Unit to work with WADA to look into whether changes need to be made.
Coe was at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. when Richardson won the 100-yard dash, which set up the possibility of a duel with two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica.
Richardson’s positive test cost her a qualifying spot in the Olympic race. She’s admitted she smoking marijuana to help deal with her mother’s recent death.
“Nothing is set in tablets of stone. You adapt and occasionally reassess.”World Athletics President Sebastian Coe
Coe’s remarks echo the disgust and anger being expressed by many athletes, organizations and public officials after Richardson was banned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After hearing complaints from American U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — the chair and vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties — Wtold Banka, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), wrote a letter reminding them the United States bears much of the responsibility for cannabis remaining on the list of banned substances.
“On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the U.S. has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List,” he wrote. “The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the U.S. over nearly two decades, in particular from USADA, have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List. Thus, the argument that some have advanced indicating that U.S. anti-doping stakeholders are bound by antiquated thinking regarding the Prohibited List is not supported by the facts.”
Former Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses recently told a federal commission hearing on international sports he was heartbroken at Richardson’s suspension, but, he added, the drug agency’s hands are tied when it comes to enforcing international drug policy.
Even the Biden White House, which remains opposed to most domestic marijuana reform proposals, has suggested cannabis reform may be the right way to proceed moving forward. Press Secretary Jen Psaki told CNN officials should “take another look” at cannabis rules after Richardson’s suspension.
President Coe expressed confidence in Richardson and her ability to return to competition soon, “She will bounce back.”