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In April, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that US long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall was stripped of her recent national indoor title and hit with a one-month suspension after a positive test for cannabis. The positive sample was collected after she won the long-jump event at the 2023 USA Track and Field Indoor Championships on Feb. 17.
With more and more states legalizing marijuana, the announcement caused a frenzy in the sports world, especially since Davis-Woodhall was not the first athlete to be stripped of a title or have supporters question her morals after a positive cannabis test.
Fans remember the 2021 debacle of US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who won the women’s 100-meter race at the Olympic Trials and was set to go to the Tokyo Olympics, only to have her spot revoked after testing positive for marijuana. Then there was swimmer Michael Phelps, who was banned in 2009 from competition for three months and lost his Kellogg’s sponsorship after photos of him smoking marijuana were leaked online. US sprinter John Capel was also banned from competing for two years after testing positive for the second time in 2006.
With nearly half the US population currently living in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, why are the punishments for athletes still so harsh?
Why Cannabis Is Prohibited in International Competition
The rules around cannabis in sports come down to not only the USADA’s rules, but also the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA), and affect athletes differently whether they’re in season or out of season and competing domestically or abroad. In order for a substance to be on the WADA’s Prohibited List, it must meet two of the three following criteria: 1) it harms the health of the athlete, 2) it is performance enhancing, and 3) it is against the spirit of sport.