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Global Drug War

Olympic Athletes Get Some Leniency On Testing For Marijuana

The Rio Olympics, which is set to kick off this Friday, has already been marred by doping scandals. Russian athletes (among many others) have been accused of systemic doping of athletes to improve performance.

One would think that these huge developments would lead to heavy testing of Olympic athletes this year. However, The World Anti-Doping Agency, which is in charge of regulating drug tests for all Olympic sports worldwide, has reportedly cared very little about athletes use of marijuana outside the window of the Olympic games.

As a start, the threshold to test positive for marijuana was increased from 15 nanogram per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. This would, hypothetically, eliminate positive tests for people who had used marijuana in the weeds leading up to the games. During the London games in 2012, only four tests came back positive for marijuana during competition.

“Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition,” said WADA spokesperson Ben Nichols.

While many drugs make their way onto the International Olympic Committee’s banned substances list for performance-enhancing qualities, marijuana was first added for its illegality in most of the world. Beyond marijuana’s legal standing across the globe, many officials believed smoking marijuana would hurt the “spirit of the sport,” which is why it still remains on the banned list. The WADA uses three guidelines to decide which drugs are to be banned:

performance enhancement, danger to an athlete’s health, and violation of the spirit of sport

Now that much of the public stigma of marijuana has dissipated and marijuana poses minimal health risks, the WADA must decide how much weight it still wants to place on a positive marijuana test, if they even want to test for it at all. On this very subject, NORML’s recently-resigned Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said, “So they kind of ask the question … if we really don’t believe overtly that this is causing people to game the system by developing greater athletic skills, shouldn’t we really revisit this.”

“It’s kind of hard to imagine that cannabis should be thrown into that mixture (of banned drugs) unless it is still viewed as a moral turpitude,” St. Pierre added. “Society doesn’t seem to view it anymore as a moral turpitude.”

It’s hard to ignore that many Olympic athletes use marijuana as either a pain reliever or relaxation method, as many people with strenuous occupations do. Two Olympic legends, in particular, Jamaican track superstar Usain Bolt and American gold medal hoarder Michael Phelps, have both admitted to using marijuana in the past, which clearly hasn’t hurt them too severely — or the “spirit” of their respective sports.