Sha’Carri Richardson Was Suspended For A Positive Cannabis Test. Seriously?

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images.
Sha'Carri Richardson, a star sprinter who'd secured herself a spot on Team USA and was set to go to the Tokyo Olympics, may not be able to compete after a drug test for cannabis came back positive. 
Last month at the Olympic Trials, Sha'Carri Richardson's run was the talk of the internet. The 21-year-old ran the 100-meter dash in just 10.86 seconds. People said she "looked like a meteor" running down the track, thanks in part to her fire-orange hair. She later told media outlets that her girlfriend helped choose the color "to show the world I'm a force to be reckoned with."
Advertisement
On Friday morning, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that Richardson had tested positive for cannabis, and had accepted a one-month suspension. Weed is legal in Oregon, where Richardson was competing at the time, but it's banned for Olympic athletes.  
During an interview with The Today Show's Savannah Guthrie, Richardson said she'd used the substance after finding out about the unexpected death of her biological mother during the Olympic trials in Oregon. The news was revealed to her by a reporter during an interview. "It sent me into a state of emotional panic," she said. "I didn't know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time."
"To have to go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain... who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain or you're dealing with a struggle that you've never experienced before," she said.
She started the interview by saying, "I take responsibility for my actions. I know what I did, I know what I'm supposed to do and I'm allowed not to do, and I still made that decision. I'm not looking for an excuse... I apologize."
Advertisement
A day before her positive test was announced, she had tweeted, "I am human."
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency noted that Richardson's one-month suspension began June 28. The Olympic Games start on July 23 this year, but the suspension may be over in time for Richardson to run the 4x100 meter relay, which takes place in the latter half of the Games, if she's still put on Team USA. It seems unlikely, however, that Richardson will be able to compete in the individual 100-meter race in Tokyo; a New York Times report said U.S.A. Track & Field had contacted other women who'd competed in the 100-meter race at the trials to let them know they'd moved up a spot in the standings. 
USATF called the situation "incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved." Read their full statement here: 
Folks on Twitter were quick to come to Richardson's defense, noting that weed is very different than steroids and doping. Many drew comparisons between her case and Michael Phelps's. In 2009, a photograph of the decorated swimmer surfaced that showed him inhaling from a weed pipe, and he was disciplined. He never tested positive for the substance, but he did lose sponsorship deals and was suspended from U.S.A. Swimming for three months with pulled financial support, Newsweek reports
"Cannabis prohibition is a human rights issue that we need to address," says Dasheeda Dawson, a molecular biologist and Cannabis Program Supervisor for the City of Portland, OR. "Cannabis prohibition destroyed communities for decades and has caused countless athletes to lose promising careers simply because we choose to accept the lies perpetuated by the War on Drugs. In the state of Oregon, where the trials are taking place, cannabis is legal for both medical and adult-use. And, as the wave of legalization hits globally and billions of dollars generated from conscious cannabis consumption, I wonder what the US Olympic Committee will say to all of the world-class athletes, like Sha'Carri, that [are] harmed out of sheer ignorance. Hopefully, it's more than just a paltry apology."
Dawson adds that the ban on weed in the sport may be tied to officials "lacking cannabis competency and true understanding about the science of cannabis," adding that cannabis is often used medicinally for joint and muscle recovery after training.
All eyes will be on USATF and Richardson as the decision is made as to whether she'll be able to make the relay race. In the meantime, we hope the world will treat Richardson with some compassion after her loss.

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series

Advertisement