Stopped in Her Tracks
Have you ever wondered who the people are that make up the International Olympics Committee (IOC)? When I learned earlier this week of the suspension of American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson for violating the organization’s drug policy, I began to wonder just what qualifications people had to have to be granted consideration for what could only seem such a prestigious position, especially since it became abundantly clear that common sense wasn’t amongst them. It seems Richardson was given a 30-day ban for smoking marijuana, a penalty that will cost her the opportunity to compete at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. Which can only lead to one inevitable question: What the hell are the members of the IOC smoking?
Ok, perhaps it leads to one other question: If the IOC is drug testing that rigorously for marijuana, how are all those snowboarders able to pass the test and compete in the Games? Admittedly, part of that can be explained by the change to the marijuana threshold limits the IOC initiated following the 2012 Summer Olympics in order to focus exclusively on use during the more immediate competition time frame rather than during the more prolonged training period. But that is also what highlights the policy’s absurdity because if the IOC thinks smoking weed gives somebody a competitive athletic advantage, they must have written that policy while munching down handfuls of edibles and hanging out listening to Bob Marley in an Amsterdam coffee shop.
Under the aforementioned World Anti-Doping Administration’s (WADA’s) guidelines, substances are placed on the prohibited list if they meet two of three conditions: They have the potential or proven ability to enhance performance, they have the potential to cause harm to an athlete, or their use is considered against the spirit of sport. Given that marijuana is used as medicine in many regions throughout the globe (Richardson herself has a medical card for purposes of stress relief and anxiety), the harm component is simply not borne out in contemporary scientific research. But what is even more dubious (also spelled “doobie-ous”) is how marijuana could be considered to have the proven ability to enhance performance. Anybody who has ever consumed marijuana or has simply been treated to the utter hilarity of watching someone else who has knows that getting high hardly creates a competitive advantage. Oh, stoners may think they are running faster than Jesse Owens being hunted down by a pack of wild Nazis, but the stark reality is that it often takes them a good half hour to make their way across the kitchen for some munchies, and that’s just hoping they don’t forget what they came for by the time they actually get there. Even International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, one of the founders of WADA, acknowledged (and yes, his name really is Dick Pound, so feel free to include your own joke here…), “Frankly, I don’t think there’s evidence it’s performance-enhancing.” No shit, Dick, but I think we all know smoking weed detracts from, not enhances, athletic performance itself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if Tonya Harding could have just forced a couple of edibles down Nancy Kerrigan’s throat right before the Olympic trials, she never would have needed Jeff Gillooly and that wretched pipe.
And yes, I know that Richardson was well aware of the rule, and hey, a rule is a rule. Yeah, but it’s a stupid fucking rule, and it is well past time that we listen to the scientific research on marijuana and use some common freakin’ sense. Richardson, for her part, has been entirely gracious and taken complete accountability for the violation, saying that she plans on competing again in 2024, but that’s just it for Olympic athletes. Unlike their counterparts in professional athletics, Richardson can’t just come back from her suspension and resume competition. She must wait years for the chance to compete at the highest level, the pinnacle to which every athlete aspires.
But it is not just athletes that are victimized by archaic and inane drug restrictions that should have been phased out years ago. Even though recreational marijuana use has been legalized in 19 states as well as the District of Columbia and is available for medical consumption in 36 states, employers still retain the right to drug test their employees in addition to potential applicants. The worst part about this is that the implementation of most company drug policies really has to do with the employer’s stance on the subject rather than the actual relevance to the position. I have a good friend of mine who works in developing and maintaining network servers. Now many of us who know him well would actually attest that he does most of his best work high out of his gourd, but regardless of that, the work he does could hardly be considered to have significant health or safety implications. He works on computers for crying out loud. But he has gotten drug tested on a regular basis in every job he has had for the past two decades. Meanwhile, I, who have been entrusted with the well-being and education of countless young people over the course of my long career, have never once been given a single drug test. Well, until my boss just read that last sentence.
And that’s precisely the folly of our society’s inconsistent and inherently flawed approach to marijuana policy. If an employer wants to be sure that their employees are drug-free and entirely coherent while on the job, I totally get it. The same would go for an employee who showed up drunk. But no one follows you home to see how much you drink on your night off. Why then are we essentially doing this for marijuana, even though alcohol often produces hangovers that linger well into the next day at the office, while marijuana just leaves the user refreshed from a good night’s sleep? Not even pilots who have hundreds of lives depending on their clear and rational thought while performing their duties get BAC’s during their off-hours. So why should we be firing employees who smoke a little weed on their own damn time?
Modernizing marijuana policy in sports and the workplace to align with the science would be a welcome change, but it won’t help Sha’Carri Richardson or the thousands of people who have lost their jobs because of a drug test that came back positive for marijuana. But with the 2022 Winter Olympics right on the horizon, and all those snowboarders’ aspirations thus hanging in the balance, it is imperative that the IOC revamp its guidelines before those Games. I, for one, plan on nominating Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg for the committee.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com