What to Know About the Olympic Marijuana Ban

As the 2020 Olympic Games come to an end in Tokyo, many viewers at home reflect on how famous athletes are affected by the Olympic Games’ long list of banned substances. Substances like marijuana have remained on the list for decades despite public scrutiny.  

Recent headlines have shifted the public eye towards the Olympics’ marijuana regulations. As more advocates call for amendments to the Olympic ban on marijuana, the regulations against cannabis merit a closer examination. Read below to learn more about Olympic regulations against marijuana and how they affect athletes.

Basics About The Olympic Marijuana Ban

The Olympic Games follow the regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Based in Canada, WADA was founded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to regulate and monitor drug usage in sports. Currently, WADA’s banned substances can be categorized as either Prohibited In-Competition or Prohibited Out-of-Competition. Athletes cannot use Prohibited In-Competition substances “commencing just before midnight (at 11:59 p.m.) on the day before a Competition in which the Athlete is scheduled to participate until the end of the Competition and the Sample collection process.” Meanwhile, Prohibited Out-of-Competition substances are forbidden at all times. 

According to WADA, cannabinoids are substances categorized as Prohibited In-Competition. Both natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited, such as tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs), cannabis products, and synthetic cannabinoids that simulate the effects of THC. The World Anti-Doping Agency makes an exception for cannabidiol (CBD). 

If an athlete tests positive for a WADA-banned drug, they are subject to sanctions. The first violation, at minimum, can result in an athlete being reprimanded, and at maximum, ineligibility  to compete for one year. A second violation will make the athlete ineligible to participate in their sport for two years. A third and final violation results in a lifetime ban from professional competition. 

Is Marijuana a Depressant or a Performance Enhancer? 

As the Olympic Games progressed, certain athletes became household names. During the U.S. track and field trials in May, Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100-meter race. While this victory seemingly assured her place on the U.S.A.’s women’s track and field team, Richardson received a one-month Olympic ban shortly after her win due to testing positive for marijuana usage. In an interview, Richardson apologized to her fans and claimed that she used marijuana to cope with the recent death of her biological mother. 

Richardson’s ban has sparked further debate over banning the usage of marijuana in sports events. According to WADA, there are three reasons why a substance may be prohibited: WADA bans any substance that might potentially enhance athletic performance, present a health risk to an athlete, or violate the sport’s spirit. 

Many viewers, athletes, and institutions have protested against Richardson’s Olympic ban and the prohibition of marijuana. A common argument against the ban is that marijuana does not meet any of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s criteria, especially that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. This argument, however, is contested by some major sports institutions. Certain organizations, such as the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), state that marijuana is a performance enhancer for some sports. Other major institutions, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), identify marijuana as a depressant in their resources for student athletes.

It is yet to be seen whether any changes to WADA’s current policies will be promulgated; however, the debates regarding Olympic athletes’ marijuana usage will certainly continue heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Cannabis lawyer Chelsie Spencer is deeply involved in the hemp, CBD, and cannabis legal communities. With years of experience as an attorney in the marijuana industry, she provides legal representation to several CBD, hemp, and cannabis businesses. With additional expertise in commercial litigation and intellectual property law, she offers a unique perspective and a comprehensive background to an extensive range of clients. Contact Ritter Spencer Cheng or give us a call at 214.295.5074 for more information.