Last week news broke that top Olympic sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson would effectively be prevented from competing in the Olympics in the 100 meters due to cannabis. Leading up to the failed drug test Richardson had captured the hearts and minds of the international track and field community with her electrifying persona and athletic ability.
Richardson was not the first elite athlete to be punished for cannabis use, and sadly, will likely not be the last. However, her punishment will likely serve as a tipping point for cannabis and professional sports around the world. Public outcry regarding Richardson’s punishment was swift and unwavering and included outcry from current and former professional and athletes in different sports, not just track and field.
Many people in mainstream media and on social media asked the obvious question, ‘why in the hell is someone being prevented from competing in the Olympics because of cannabis?’ Why in 2021 is cannabis still an issue in professional athletic competition? Then again, why was it ever an issue in the first place?
Prohibition Is Prohibition
Prohibition in professional sports, including the Olympics, is an extension of cannabis prohibition in society. The goal of cannabis prohibition is to punish people, and while the punishment is different in sports than it is in society where prohibition exists, it’s punishment nonetheless.
Whether cannabis prohibitionists want to admit it or not, punishing athletes serves a distinct purpose in their ongoing efforts. International athletes are high profile and popular, and making an example out of them generates headlines. It not only sends a chilling effect to other athletes – it’s a propaganda tool.
Just as cannabis-consuming musicians and actors were targeted at the start of prohibition in the early 20th century to further prohibition, athletes have been high-profile targets of prohibition in modern times. When they are found to have consumed cannabis and/or were caught with cannabis outside of sports competitions they are punished initially by their leagues, then subjected to intense scrutiny in the media. The underlying message is that they have let people down and that no one should want to be like those athletes, at least in that moment.
Let Athletes Consume
No valid reason exists for prohibiting international athletes from consuming cannabis. When asked why they think cannabis should remain prohibited, cannabis opponents typically offer up one or two talking points. The first is that cannabis is harmful to athletes.
When prohibitionists claim that cannabis is harmful to athletes, they completely disregard the mountain of peer-reviewed, scientific evidence regarding the medical benefits of cannabis. Cannabis is medicine and possesses tremendous wellness properties. To be clear, no one is suggesting that athletes be under the influence during competition or practice. What cannabis advocates are ultimately pointing out is that there’s nothing inherently harmful about an elite international athlete having cannabinoids in their system from past cannabis use.
The other talking point that prohibitionists will offer up is that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug. Cannabis opponents seem to simultaneously claim that cannabis is harmful to the human body and also that it’s so beneficial that it gives too much of a competitive edge to athletes that use it. It would all be laughable except that it’s having a very real and negative impact on the lives of professional athletes.
The Olympics and all international sports competitions need to get on the right side of history and let science, compassion, and logical reasoning determine their substance policies, and not the harmful, unfounded political views.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Rovinj, Croatia (September 22-23, 2022), Barcelona (March 9, 2023), Berlin Global Investment Forum (June 27, 2023), and Berlin B2B Trade Show (June 29-30, 2023).