If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few years you’ll be aware that America is on the verge of a tipping point in the way it treats the regulated sale of cannabis.
But however much America at large may be slowly coming round to a future of legal pot, major sports leagues retain antiquated and damaging ideas when it comes to punishing recreational smoking amongst sportsmen. Athletes exist in a culturally grey area; some like Michael Phelps, Marshawn Lynch and Jerome Simpson have been caught or pictured in possession and suffered relatively little consequent damage to their careers. But failing an official test often has much more serious repercussions, like in the case of Josh Gordon (of the Cleveland Browns) who will likely face a 1 year suspension after THC was found in a blood test.
Had things gone another way with Marshawn Lynch, he could have faced a year-long suspension for being discovered with 4 blunts in his car during a routine traffic stop. Had that happened fans wouldn’t be betting on Lynch to be Super Bowl MVP (learn more about that here at the bettingsports blog), but potentially remembering a promising career wrecked by a minor infraction.
The first time the issue of cannabis use and sport was widely debated happened 16 years ago when Canadian Ross Rebagliati won gold in Men’s Snowboarding, before being disqualified after THC was found in a blood test. He appealed, and eventually won, on the grounds that cannabis was not, at that time, on the list of banned substances. Rebagliati retained his medal, but cannabis was soon added to the prohibited list.
We are now witnessing a slight backpedal from some official bodies on the issue of pot. The NHL, alone in America’s “big 4” sport leagues, does not prohibit cannabis use by athletes and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), recently upped the threshold for a positive test by a factor of 10 – effectively giving Winter Olympic athletes a free pass to toke out of competition.
Unfortunately the NCAA; which oversees college sport, is not so liberal. The association has a year round testing program – but only tests for marijuana in bowl games or postseason championships. All too often promising athletes can be slapped with half season suspensions for first offences – wrecking both the fun of college and potential careers.
However is it fair to expect sport governing bodies to attract conservative ire by toning down the punishments doled out to those caught using weed? Federal law and international bodies still prohibit the substance – drug testing does, after all, depend on international standards and cooperation.
But one thing that should be obvious to everyone is that cannabis isn’t a performance enhancing drug. This author has even seen cannabis and other recreational drugs listed amongst the “top 10 performance enhancers found in athletes”; a category where these substances clearly don’t belong. If punishments – let alone huge suspensions carry on being doled out to recreational pot users it undermines the otherwise important work of doping agencies, to prevent cheating and protect athletes from sometimes dangerous, anti competitive performance enhancers.
In coming years we can expect a big change in the legal climate surrounding marijuana – both at home and around the world. Sooner or later anti doping officials will wise up to the fact that punishing smokers neither protects the game nor enthuses the public – and young athletes can stop having their careers needlessly tossed aside in the name of clean competition.
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