Story at a glance
- After winning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Track team, Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing after testing positive for marijuana.
- Richardson says she was using marijuana to help cope with the death of her mother.
- Dozens of high-profile figures have spoken out in support of Richardson and hit back against “antiquated” marijuana regulations.
The backlash following the suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson, an Olympic-bound sprinter who tested positive for marijuana last week and was subsequently banned from competing for one month, continues to mount as a new petition demands to let her run.
Having garnered its goal of nearly half a million signatures, the petition also calls for changes to the “outdated and arbitrarily enforced rule around marijuana” within the U.S. Olympic committee as well reinstating Richardson.
In June, Richardson, 21, won the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S. track and field trials in Oregon last month, setting her up to compete in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Richardson was subsequently banned from the 100-meter race.
The authors of the petition say that banning Richardson over the use of marijuana is an extension of the racist “War on Drugs” policies enacted by the U.S. government in the early 1970s. The campaign disproportionately targeted communities of color in its effort to stop the circulation and use of major drugs.
“The imposition of a penalty against a world-class Black, queer, woman athlete is powerfully and infuriatingly reminiscent of the way drug laws are regularly applied in the United States,” the petition reads. “Recreational marijuana use has been de facto legal for upper-middle-class white people for years—something more states are recognizing as they legalize marijuana for all people and consider how to repair the damage done to Black and brown communities by decades of the ‘war on drugs.’”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the controlling agency that regulates and tests Olympic athletes for any substances, explicitly bans marijuana and other cannabinoids.
Many states, however, have legalized the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes, including Oregon, where Richardson was competing.
Speaking on the positive test result and subsequent banning, Richardson told “The Today Show” that she had been using marijuana to help her cope with the recent death of her biological mother.
She also told reporters that she would work hard to return to the track.
“This is just one game. I’m 21. I’m very young,” Richardson said. “Unlike most, I have plenty of games left in me to compete in, and I have plenty of talent that backs me up because everything I do comes from me naturally: No steroids… After my sanction is up, I’ll be back and ready to compete.”
Since her test results and banning made national headlines, dozens of high-profile athletes and public figures, including Odell Beckham Jr. and Dwyane Wade have criticized the USADA decision.
U.S. House Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) co-wrote a letter to the USADA urging the agency to overturn its decision banning Richardson.
“This suspension is the result of USADA’s antiquated prohibition on the use of cannabis products by U.S. athletes, which is derived from the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to place marijuana on its list of prohibited substances,” the letter reads. “Anti-marijuana laws have a particularly ugly history of systemic racism. We call on WADA and USADA to reconsider restrictions on recreational marijuana use and any current suspensions that are in place on that basis.”
Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin asked for a response to their request by July 9.
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