Over the last handful of years, something rather incredible has happened.
Before the dominoes of state legal cannabis markets began to fall, the only time you’d ever read about a sports star and cannabis in the same headline was when an athlete was being punished for consuming cannabis. And when such headlines ran, the result was often to a player’s extreme detriment.
Following public support for cannabis reform, however, we’ve begun to see a very different kind of headline emerge.
Today, what we read is more often an announcement concerning a former athlete’s new cannabis venture. From one-time NBA stars like Matt Barnes and Al Harrington (it appears the legendary “We Believe” Golden State Warriors squad also believes strongly in weed) to veteran boxer Karim Mayfield to ex-NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, former sports stars hawking legal cannabis has definitely become a booming business.
Which makes news of a cannabis-related suspension for track star Sha’Carri Richardson just weeks before the Tokyo Olympics is set to begin all the more difficult to stomach.
Last week, news broke that Richardson — a gold-medal favorite for the women’s 100 meters in Tokyo — had tested positive for cannabis, resulting in a one-month suspension as determined by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Richardson, a 21-year-old star in her sport, won the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S. track and field trials in Oregon only last month. But, as the New York Times reports, “her positive test automatically invalidated her result in that marquee event.”
In the fervor that followed news of the positive test and Richardson’s subsequent ban, the runner decided to provide some context to the situation. As it turns out, Richardson’s choice to use cannabis was the result of trying “to cope with the unexpected death of her biological mother.”
Speaking with NBC, Richardson, who was raised by her grandmother, detailed that while she was in Oregon to compete in the Olympic trials, she learned from a reporter that her mother had died.
“It sent me into a state of emotional panic,” Richardson told NBC, adding “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”
In a completely understandable reaction to the situation, Richardson decided to seek a bit of solace in the form of cannabis. As for what makes this situation entirely outrageous, it’s truly a matter of “take your pick.”
First off, the idea that cannabis is banned for its “performance enhancing” qualities is fully undermined by decades of science as well as the fact that far more beneficial compounds, like caffeine, remain perfectly legit to use.
Hinting at this point, comedian and cannabis entrepreneur Seth Rogen took to Twitter to join in a growing chorus of disdain for Richardson’s suspension.
“The notion that weed is a problematic ‘drug’ is rooted in racism,” Rogen wrote in a post sharing Richardson’s Today Show interview. “It’s insane that Team USA would disqualify one of this country’s most talented athletes over thinking that [is] rooted in hatred. It’s something they should be ashamed of. Also if weed made you fast, I’d be FloJo.”
To take nothing away from Rogen’s assertion, it is worth mentioning that some believe cannabis is very capable of enhancing performance. Sometimes known as a “hippie speedball,” there are those that believe the right combination of caffeine, exercise, and cannabis can unlock what’s known as “the flow state.”
Described by Mashable as “a state of focus that feels almost magical,” a growing number of athletes are finding the benefits of adding cannabis to a workout regimen that already often includes caffeine. But, suffice it to say, having supreme mental clarity does not give you record-breaking speed, so prohibiting cannabis as a “performance enhancer” is still a decision devoid of logic.
That’s mainly what others have been arguing in coming to Richardson’s defense.
“In 2021, at a time when marijuana use is legally accepted in a growing number of US states and around the world,” argued NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a press release, “it makes exactly zero sense for regulators to continue to take punitive actions against athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson or anyone else who chooses to consume cannabis in their off-hours.”
Overall, the call for reform has been downright deafening in the wake of Richardson’s suspension.
Initially, there was still some hope that Richardson might be able to at least head to Tokyo as part of the USA Track and Field’s relay team, but on the Olympic roster released Tuesday, her name was not included.
If one desires to take a positive from this situation, perhaps the fact that President Biden offered a potentially tantalizing soundbite in response to a question about Richardson’s situation will suffice.
Queried about the issue at a Saturday event in Michigan, Biden responded in a manner that gave some vague hope to those clamoring for change.
“The rules are the rules,” Biden said, according to CNN. “Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue, but the rules are the rules.”
It seems quite clear that the rules should not remain the rules if, in their current form, they don’t allow for one of track’s brightest stars to grieve the untimely death of her mother through the use of a plant that’s legal in the state in which she consumed it.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, there was also news that Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso was arrested, then released in Texas on June 22 for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Again, it all points to a rulebook built prior to our current world. It’s time for an update – and fast.