What if Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the Olympics for marijuana use in the 1980s?
In the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” mantra, as the country raced in its war on drugs, it is likely that much of the public would have supported the move to stop the sprinter from competing after a failed drug test. . Politicians from the right and left, many of whom worked together to enact punitive drug laws, reportedly said that the suspension sends the right message to the public about the dangers of drug use, while the news shows that they harbor the messages of these politicians. Ads for “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” showing an egg frying in a pan.
The story is very different today. Prominent figures to the left and right, ranging from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Donald Trump Jr., condemned the decision. For Americans now living in states where marijuana is legal (including Oregon, where richardson uses it), the question is obvious: why should this drug be banned more than other legal recreational substances, such as alcohol or tobacco? Even President Joe Biden, who as a senator helped draft drug laws in the 1980s and has taken a more conservative stance on legalizing marijuana, He suggested – while recognizing that “the rules are the rules” – that the rules must change.
However, Richardson remains suspended, making her the latest victim in the global war on drugs.
There is no good evidence that marijuana improves a sprinter’s ability to compete; After all, marijuana isn’t exactly known for making people quicker or more energetic. As founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) told the Washington Post, the inclusion of marijuana as a prohibited substance was based on the fact that it was, and continues to be, illegal in much of the world.
“We were a little shy about saying, ‘Although these things are prohibited by criminal law, we don’t care,'” said Dick Pound, also a member of the International Olympic Committee. That looked bad. But I think because these things have been thought about over the years, they don’t really improve performance. “
In fact, over the years, the United States has pledged financial support to the Olympics to help eliminate drug use, both recreational and performance-enhancing, from competition. The White House drug czar during former President Bill Clinton’s tenure, Barry McCaffrey, was explicit: “We lift Olympians on international pedestals for all the children of the world to see as role models; it is vital that the message they send is about drugs. free. The goal of all this effort must be to prevent the Olympic medals and the Olympic movement from being tarnished by drugs. “
To put it another way: The war on drugs, which was fostered by U.S. foreign policy and also led to international treaties that still ban the recreational use of marijuana, pushed the influential AMA to ban the recreational use of marijuana. marijuana among athletes, a prohibition that continues to apply.
The problem with the Olympics is that attitudes around marijuana have changed dramatically in recent years. Eighteen states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Canada and Uruguay have also legalized cannabis, even when it conflicts with international law; Other countries are considering similar measures, and several dozen already legalize marijuana for medical uses. In many nations, including the US, public opinion is strongly behind these changes.
The Olympics have now put themselves in a position to effectively condemn something that much of the competition’s audience no longer rejects and, in fact, would like their governments to loosen the rules. Richardson is not just a victim of the war on drugs: he is the victim of an approach that no longer matches much of the public’s views on drugs.
Americans’ views on marijuana have softened
It really can’t be understated how quickly views on marijuana have changed in such a short time.
A decade ago marijuana was not legal anywhere in the world, not even in the Netherlands, which takes a soft approach towards marijuana, but technically still prohibits it. But then Colorado and the state of Washington legalized marijuana, opening the floodgates to a broader movement. Since then, 16 other states have followed suit, as well as the nations of Canada, Uruguay and, perhaps soon, Mexico.
In the US, public attitudes have often been ahead of change. In 2000, only 31 percent of the country supported legalization, while 64 percent opposed it. according to Gallup. For 2020, the numbers changed: in the most recent Gallup poll On the subject, 68 percent of those surveyed supported legalization and 32 percent were against it.
After all, it is voter-approved initiatives in Colorado and Washington that enabled the first two US states to be legalized.
This support extends to Republicans, who tend to have more conservative views on drugs. Gallup found that a small majority of Republicans supported the legalization of marijuana in 2017, 2018, Y 2019; a majority opposed her in 2020But the difference was within the margin of error, and a sizable minority of 48 percent still supported it. So bank he found the majority of Republicans, 55 percent, supported legalization in 2019.
And of the four Republican-dominated states where marijuana use has been voted on, it was won in three: Alaska, Montana and South Dakota, losing only in North Dakota. Marijuana legalization is 3-1 in solid red states.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. But even that may change in the near future as public opinion rapidly advances and more prominent Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders introduce legislation to end the federal ban.
Why the change? There are many likely explanations: The failure of the war on drugs to stop widespread drug addiction (see: the opioid epidemic) and the reaction to punitive and racially unequal policies have left Americans wanting a new approach. . The public now tends to see Marijuana use is not as bad, or at least not as harmful as alcohol or tobacco use. The internet likely sped up many of these conversations, as well as experiments on legalization that began with medical marijuana and have now spread to recreational use.
Some sports leagues reflect this change, with the NFL and MLB relaxing punishments for athletes who test positive for the drug. But even though the Olympics and WADA have raised the threshold for prohibition of marijuana to really high levels, it still suspends athletes who exceed that limit, and marijuana was the ninth most marked drug in 2019.
It is in this context that many Americans and their leaders have considered the suspension of one of their athletes for marijuana absurd.
However, the backlash points to a possible hopeful sign: While Richardson is the latest casualty in the war on marijuana, he could soon be among the last. Because with the pace of change taking place around the world regarding cannabis, it seems likely that suspensions like hers will soon become a historic footnote, a reflection of a bygone era when the world attempted a too punitive approach for a relatively harmless drug.