Sha’Carrie Richardson Ban Highlights Injustices in Drug Testing



UPDATE 7/10/21 – The LA Times editorialized, Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension was fair, but the marijuana rule isn’tnoting that, “WADA isn’t the only arena in which marijuana rules are anachronistic; the U.S. government’s attitude is practically medieval. Marijuana is legal in most states of this country, if you count medicinal use, but the federal government continues to place cannabis in its most restricted category of drugs, up there with heroin…..It’s also worth considering that marijuana is detectable in drug tests for up to weeks after it was most recently used, long after its effects have subsided.”

Former ONDCP “czar” Barry McCaffrey and former NIDA researcher Marilyn Huestis have been named as partly responsible for the Olympics’ antiquated policy around marijuana. Rumor has it that the White House has asked WADA to renegotiate its stance on cannabis. Meanwhile, USADA released a statement saying, “Inclusion of Cannabinoids, including marijuana, on the Prohibited List has been vigorously debated since WADA’s inception back in 2003….Hopefully, this case can be used as an example as to the reasons why it’s time to revisit the issue.”

On Friday 7/9, USADA went further, tweeting out​ that that WADA’s rules concerning marijuana “must change,” and ONDCP tweeted​ that it is only “seeking additional information” on how those rules are carried out.

7/6/2021 – In a story with “legs” in more ways than one, public outcry has been intense over the banning of sprinter Sha’Carrie Richardson from competing in the Olympics in the 100-meter race she won during the trials last month in Oregon (where marijuana is legal) after she tested positive for pot.

On Saturday, President Biden was asked if he thought the ban was fair and said, “The rules are the rules….whether they should remain the rules is a different issue.” Biden didn’t take a follow-up question about Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and other congressmembers writing to WADA and USADA asking them to reconsider their decision. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) is also circulating a letter of protest.

The incident is emblematic of drug testing and employment rights for marijuana users in the US: despite 18 states plus Washington, D.C. legalizing recreational marijuana, we’re disqualifying some of our best and brightest workers over an exercise in freedom of choice that has no effect on job performance. In Oregon, and many other “legal” states like California, workers can still lose their jobs, or job opportunities, for using marijuana outside of the workplace. Urine and hair tests, in particular, detect only inactive metabolites from marijuana used days or weeks before a test, and have no correlation with on-the-job performance, whether you’re working at a manufacturing job or running track.

The news about Richardson comes just after Connecticut became the fifth state to protect the employment rights of recreational marijuana users while legalizing marijuana, pointing out in its law that a positive test for inactive marijuana metabolites “shall not be construed, without other evidence, as proof that such individual is under the influence of cannabis.” Twenty-one states protect medical marijuana users’ employment rights.

Also of late, the California State Personnel Board ruled that an employee can’t be fired for using marijuana off the job, and a urine test doesn’t prove on-the-job impairment; the US House Appropriations Committee adopted a report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law; and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued an opinion stating that the federal prohibition against marijuana “strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary.”

The NFL is no longer suspending players who test positive for marijuana, and is funding research into its use for pain management. The NBA has ceased random testing for marijuana, and cannabinoids were taken off the MLB’s drugs of abuse list in 2019. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which governs the Olympics, relaxed its rules on CBD in 2019, but THC remains prohibited.

NORML has issued an action alert by which supporters can write to WADA and USADA asking them to revise their policies to be in compliance with the shifting legal and cultural standing of cannabis. It’s something that should happen for all workers, everywhere.


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