On Friday, July 2, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency declared that American runner Sha’Carri Richardson had accepted a 30-day suspension. The Agency publicly announced the news after Richardson tested positive for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Although the young athlete accepts full responsibility for her mistake, it goes without saying that the temporary expulsion has left her and her fans feeling devastated.
Moreso, Richardson’s 30-day dismissal by anti-doping officials has stimulated conversation from other industry professionals, cannabis advocates, proponents, and athletes, one of whom is former Canadian Olympic hurdler Perdita Felicien. Cannabis prohibition among Olympic athletes is old-fashioned and must be updated, says Felicien, who retired on October 24, 2013. She told CBC Radio,
“My stance is that weed shouldn’t be on the banned list. It’s not a performance enhancer. If anything, it’s just, you know, something WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, just feels is bad for the image of its athletes…It’s been on the list for years and I don’t think it belongs there; it’s costing too much.”
The Oshawa native earned the 2003 World champion title in the 100 meters hurdles, as well as the 2004 World indoor champion in the 60 meters hurdles. The 40-year-old also has a number of silver medals under her belt – notably, she claimed victory at the 2007 World Championships, the 2010 World Indoor Championships, and twice at the Pan American Games.
Felicien isn’t the only sportsperson to contest against pot prohibition in the world of sports. Numerous athletes have advocated for the use of cannabis in sports over the years, including Nate Jackson, Ricky Williams, Eugene Monroe, Floyd Landis, and Liz Carmouche.
Specializing in the 100 meters, Richardson was the United States’ best prospect for bagging a gold medal in the women’s race for the first time since 1996. The stellar black female athlete also trains for the 200 meters. She initially rose to stardom in 2019, when she was a freshman at Louisiana State University. Back then, she gained notoriety for breaking the 100 m record at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships; at a groundbreaking time of 10.75 seconds.
Sadly, after accomplishing the 100-meter trial race in 10.86 seconds—an Olympic-worthy time—at the U.S. track trials, Richardson tested positive for THC. Consequently, she was immediately disqualified and forced to forfeit her competing spot in the Tokyo 4×100 relay team. Since her disqualification, numerous athletes, fans, and sports journalists have publicly announced their support for Richardson.
Felicien is one of those people. The former athlete, who now assumes the role of sports broadcaster, recently discussed the subject with guest host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens, Nil Köksa.
“I thought it wasn’t real,” Felicien said after being asked about what went through her mind upon hearing the news. “I was shocked and stunned. I kept scrolling through Twitter to find out if this was actually happening. Her star was rising, it was high, and then suddenly it just dropped so suddenly.”
Felicien touched upon the fact that Richardson learned of her biological mother’s death during an interview. Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her mother’s passing, the retired Canadian Olympic athlete acknowledged that Richardson broke a rule.
On the other hand, the WADA’s medical director Al Vernec—former head medical officer for Athletics Canada—has admitted that cannabis does not help athletes to perform better.
“If that’s the case, if WADA’s own person is saying this, then it needs to be off the list,” said Felicien, adding that, “WADA is very slow to adopt change, and so even if they were feeling extreme pressures to have this removed from the list, I mean, we’re not going to see this removed, I would say, in the next five years, if 10. It’s not going anywhere.”
Following Richardson’s suspension, WADA—a foundation established by the Canadian International Olympic Committee to foster, coordinate, and track the fight against drug use among athletes—is being urged to change its stance on cannabis. The heavily debated topic has been catapulted back into the forefront of sporting conversation after the gold-medal hopeful’s positive drug test.
WADA emphasized the findings of a 2011 study published in Sports Medicine as a means of proving that cannabis may be detrimental to health, all the while enhancing athletic performance. The study touched upon the fact that athletes may be at risk of health problems and poor decision-making skills.
“Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk-taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making,” reads an excerpt from the study, which was authored by The National Institutes of Health (NIH).
On top of that statement, an April literature review published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness came to the conclusion that cannabis “does not act as a sport performance-enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.” Moreover, the reviewers alleged that “cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports.”
Despite all of this, many other research studies don’t support and have in fact dispelled the notion that THC is a performance-enhancing drug.
She won’t be competing in Tokyo’s Olympic Games, but Richardson has joined forces with Kanye West and Beats for a new ad. Featuring the rapper’s music and a visual clip of the athlete setting off to sprint, the ad—which was aired during Game 6 of the NBA Finals—is sure to keep Richardson in the public eye.
Additionally, she has also been presented with an opportunity to be the new face of Dr. Dabber – an online store for vaporizers, accessories, and CBD products.
“Considering your talent and grace over these past weeks, we would love to offer you the opportunity to work with our team as a spokesperson for Dr. Dabber. This entails testing our award-winning dab rigs and vape pens as a resident ‘doctor’”, reads the proposal from the vaping organization.
In the event that Richardson accepts the proposal, she will bag $250,000. (Not too bad, considering she just violated the WADA drug rules.)
A number of pro athletes have already accepted cannabis sponsorships, including Colorado-based competitive ultramarathoner Flavie Dokken, who is sponsored by Wana Brands, and Women’s World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe, who is sponsored by CBD startup company Mendi.
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