Let Sha'Carri Richardson be the last victim of the Olympics' archaic rules on marijuana

(Miami Herald) - Richardson, 21, is a 5-1 blur of speed. She won the women’s 100-meter dash at the U.S. Track & Field trials last month in Oregon to earn a spot in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. She should be among gold medal favorites. Hers should be one of those stories you get to know over the next month.

Let Sha'Carri Richardson be the last victim of the Olympics' archaic rules on marijuana

I’m a rules follower, maybe to a fault. Before I step into an express lane I scan the shopping cart to make sure I don’t have more than 10 items. When it comes to sports I’m old-school on cheating. I’m all for the wide net against performance-enhancing drugs.

But this Sha’Carri Richardson situation — it felt wrong the minute it made news, and the more I’ve researched it, the more head-shaking angry I’ve gotten.

Richardson, 21, is a 5-1 blur of speed. She won the women’s 100-meter dash at the U.S. Track & Field trials last month in Oregon to earn a spot in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. She should be among gold medal favorites. Hers should be one of those stories you get to know over the next month.

Instead her story is that she got suspended one month by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. It is the lightest, most slap-on-wrist penalty in the USADA penal code. It is just long enough to erase her Olympic dream.

Richardson’s offense? She tested positive for marijuana after her race last month. She told NBC she had smoked a bit of pot — legal in Oregon, where the trials were held — to help cope with learning of the sudden, unexpected death of her bilogicial mother. NBC said she learned of her mom’s death during an interview with a reporter.

So sorry for your loss, Sha’Carri. You’re suspended.

The World Anti-Doping Agency includes marijuana on its list of banned substances — but only on race day, midnight to midnight. You want to smoke two days before hand or two days later, have at it!

Richardson was given the minimum one-month suspension because her cannabis use was judged “unrelated to the sport.”

So why then is she suspended at all? (She still was eligible to run in the 400-meter relay late in the Games after her suspension ended, but Tuesday it was announced she would not be on that team).

Richardson, who is Black, has endured some racially tinged abuse on social media. And responded with grace. And accepted her punishment with grace.

“All of these perfect people that know how to live life,” she tweeted, “I’m glad I’m not one of them!”

Richardson has accepted her punishment, but it still isn’t right. The WADA and USADA should modernize their rules to remove marijuana from its banned substances. The Olympics are one of the last sports entities to continue stigmatizing and criminalizing marijuana.

Clearly, virtually nobody on earth considers marijuana to be a performance-enhancing drug. It is closer to the opposite.

I can testify, from a distant relationship with pot in my youth, that if I were lining up for a 100-meter dash after smoking, the only place I would be running to was the snack stand to sate a major case of the munchies.

Hasn’t been a gold medal won in Olympic history credited to cannabis.

The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, in an article this past April, concluded that weed “does not act as a sports performance enhancing agent,” even stating, “Cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports.”

The WADA relies on a 2011 study that suggests marijuana presents a health risk, but that notion has become antiquated in 10 years.

Eighteen states, and counting, now have decriminalized marijuana use. MLB removed marijuana from its list f banned substances in 2019. The NBA no longer does random tests for pot use. The NFL now fines you for pot, not suspends you. Testing positive for cannabis is no longer a violation in UFC.

While the Olympics remains stuck in the past, suspending people for what clearly is not a performance-enhancing drug.

In the context of the global COVID pandemic that has cost 605,000 American lives, and that postponed the Tokyo Games by a year, the idea of banning a top sprinter because she took a few puffs a month earlier to help cope with traumatic news seems insanely and arbitrarily punitive.

Plenty agree. At move-on.org, a petition calling for Richardson to be reinstated and eligible for Tokyo had collected more than 493,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

The petition’s title is three words full of common sense, fairness and heart:

Let Sha’Carri run!