USADA responds to congressional members over Sha’Carri Richardson ban

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says Sha'Carri Richardson received the 'absolute minimum sanction' it could impose without being non-compliant

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Friday responded to congressional members who criticized the suspension of runner Sha’Carri Richardson from Olympic competition, saying in a letter that it has to enforce the rules on marijuana, though it sympathizes with the athlete.

“The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) agrees that Ms. Richardson’s exclusion from the Tokyo Olympic Games is a heartbreaking situation and that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules concerning marijuana must change,” said the letter, signed by CEO Travis T. Tygart, Chair Philip Dunn and Emeritus Chair Dr. Edwin Moses.

Sha’Carri Richardson looks on after winning the Women’s 100 ,eter final on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on June 19, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The USADA letter was addressed to Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the Democrats who first addressed a letter to the agency on July 2 criticizing the “harsh consequences” levied on marijuana usage.

Richardson tested positive for a chemical found in cannabis. She was handed down a one-month suspension, which was reduced from a three-month sanction after she completed counseling.

“Ms. Richardson’s one-month suspension was the absolute minimum sanction that USADA was permitted to impose under the Code,” the USADA said. “Anything less would have resulted in USADA being non-compliant with the WADA Code.”

In the letter from the congressional members, the Democrats urged that the agency reconsider the suspension levied on Richardson and its policies on the use of recreational marijuana.

The organization, however, said it has no standing to alter any rules set by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets policy on prohibited substances and drug testing.

“USADA does not make or have a direct vote on the anti-doping rules but, as a WADA Code Signatory, we are required to enforce them,” the USADA wrote. “While those rules have indeed become more flexible and fair over time, USADA has argued for still more changes and will continue to advocate for changes going forward.”

Richardson earlier this month was banned from competing in the 100-meter dash event at the Tokyo Olympics. She took responsibility and accepted the suspension, telling NBC that she smoked weed after losing her mother before the Olympic trials last month where she won the 100-meter in 10.86 seconds.

Although the suspension would have been lifted in time for her to participate in the 4×100 meter relay race, U.S. Track and Field left Richardson off the roster completely, keeping her from all events at the Tokyo Games.

Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin alleged that Richardson’s suspension was the result of the USADA’s “antiquated prohibition on the use of cannabis products by U.S. athletes,” called the marijuana ban “a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties.”

However, the USADA wrote it has “very different positions of authority” in comparison to the WADA.

Sha'Carri Richardson,
Sha’Carri Richardson after winning the 100 Meter final on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on June 19, 2021. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Marijuana is on the Prohibited List because it was, and still is, the consensus of stakeholders that marijuana can be harmful to athlete’s health and safety during a competition,” the agency said referring to a July 2020 report on marijuana by the National Institutes of Health.

“It is worth noting that when marijuana was included in the first Prohibited List in 2004, one of the strongest advocates for inclusion of marijuana on the Prohibited List was the U.S. Government,” the letter read. “While the current trend might be in the direction of legalizing marijuana, many in the world still consider marijuana to be an illegal drug and, as we understand it, this is reflected in WADA’s current policy.”

The USADA ended the letter by quoting President Joe Biden‘s response to Richardson’s suspension as the example of “the way forward” when it comes to mitigating marijuana rules for the WADA.

“The rules are the rules and everybody knows what the rules were going in. Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue, but the rules are the rules. I was really proud of the way she responded,” Biden said.

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