WADA Says US is Responsible for Harsh Cannabis Policies


Two House Representatives wrote to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) following track star Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension. In the letter, Representatives Jamie Raskin, D-MD, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, discussed the cannabis ban on the international level. “The ban on marijuana is a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties,” their letter stated. “The divergent treatment of recreational alcohol and marijuana use reflects obsolete stereotypes about cannabis products and a profound misunderstanding of the relative risks of both substances.”

In response, WADA said the US has been the driving force behind banning cannabis from sports since the 1990s. President Clinton’s U.S. drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, sent a 10-page memo to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1998. The memo said the games “must adopt a comprehensive anti-drug program.”. The memo went on to say the games should punish participants who test positive for recreational drugs like cannabis. 

Prohibition Push

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was led by Barry McCaffrey in 1998. He went on to explain why cannabis should be a prohibited drug despite it not being a performance enhancer. 

“We raise Olympic athletes up on international pedestals for all the world’s children to look up to as role models. It is vital… the message they send [remains] drug free,″ Barry McCaffrey said. “The goal of this whole effort must be [preventing] Olympic medals and the Olympic movement from being tarnished by drugs″. The ONDCP granted $1 million in funding to the IOC in 1998 as well, to combat drug use. 

This push came in response to a Canadian snowboarder winning a Gold medal, then testing positive for THC. Furthermore, McCaffrey even suggested the IOC issue congruent medals for athletes who scored lower after an athlete tested positive for THC and won. The ONDCP “become seriously concerned about the impact of this victory on youth attitudes toward drugs,” the report from the office said.

The medal “directly undercut(s) our messages to young people that drug use undermines a child’s opportunities for success,” it continued. “ONDCP began a wave of efforts to get the IOC to ban marijuana from the games. In short course, these efforts were successful and the IOC banned marijuana.”

WADA Response 

Responding to the House letter, WADA noted the previous drug czar adamant pushed for cannabis prohibition. “The U.S. has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List,” the letter from WADA’s president, Witold Banka, said. “The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the U.S. over nearly two decades, in particular from [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List.”

“The argument that…U.S. anti-doping stakeholders (seem) bound to antiquated thinking (regarding the) Prohibited List is (invalid),” President Banka’s letter states. “The consultative process in place allows for modifications to the Prohibited List and the Code, annually. In fact, over time, as your letter recognizes, several such changes have occurred… There is nothing preventing additional changes consistent with the process I have described.”


However, WADA can’t reverse the suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson for the upcoming Olympics. WADA and the USADA work as separate entities with their own rules and regulations. So, Richardson will need to fulfill her suspension obligations. Additionally, the WADA has no say in what the US Track and Field organization says for their athletes. Unfortunately, this includes the additional removal of Sha’Carri Richardson from the 4x100m dash.

Each organization is aware they need to change the cannabis rules independently. Only then can larger world organizations, like WADA, can make international changes for athletes everywhere.

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