Weed is here to stay
WADA won’t remove cannabis from banned list
IN SPITE of the popular belief that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says the substance, well known as ganja in Jamaica, will remain on its list of banned substances. Witola Banka, president of...
IN SPITE of the popular belief that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says the substance, well known as ganja in Jamaica, will remain on its list of banned substances.
Witola Banka, president of world sports’ anti-doping governors, told The Sunday Gleaner in an interview that while they have had discussions around the subject and have relaxed penalties, their medical personnel advised that cannabis should not be removed.
“First of all, we’ve a specific group of scientists who are deciding about what substances should be on the list, what substances should be removed from the list. So there was a discussion about cannabis, of course, but the final decision after the research analysis was that we have to maintain the cannabis. The recommendation, (the) decision is that cannabis has to be maintained on the list,” Banta explained.
There were calls for an immediate review and fierce debate globally, following a high-profile case involving United States female sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, who was hit with a 30-day suspension - that essentially ruled her out of the Tokyo Olympics in Japan, which was pushed back to summer in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richardson, who at the time had just won the US 100m National Championship title, had tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.
The WADA code that speaks to a marijuana violation reads:
As per Code Article 10.2.4.1, where the Anti-Doping Rule Violation involves a Substance of Abuse and “the Athlete can establish that any ingestion or Use occurred Out-of-Competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of Ineligibility shall be three (3) months. In addition, the period of Ineligibility calculated may be reduced to one (1) month if the Athlete or other Person satisfactorily completes a Substance of Abuse treatment programme approved by the Anti-Doping Organization with Results Management responsibility.”
A former minister of sport and Polish 400-metre sprinter, Banta reasoned that WADA has made significant cutbacks on its punishment for those who contravene its regulations concerning cannabis.
“When you look at the sanction, we’ve significantly diminished the scope of the sanctions. Previously, you could be sanctioned for four years if you used cannabis. Now it’s prohibited during the competition. And even the sanction, maximum three months, that could be diminished to one month,” the WADA boss said.
James Fitzgerald, WADA’s head of media relations, communications, noted additional relaxation of the body’s cannabis protocols, pointing to elevated allowable limits for athletes in-competition.
“It has a high threshold, so even if you have some in your system in competition it has to reach a certain threshold before it’s an issue,” Fitzgerald said.
The limit that triggers a positive test for cannabis is 150 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml), with a decision limit of 180ng/ml, in the urine.
This threshold, according to WADA, was significantly increased in 2013 from 15 ng/ml, in order to minimise the adverse analytical finding, as recognition of the substance’s wide usage.
While admitting that they have hugely softened their position on cannabis, Banta, who became WADA president in January 2020, said the issue encompasses more than sport.
“It’s a compromise,” Banta reasoned. “(But) you’ve to remember that still, in the majority of the countries, cannabis is prohibited. It’s a moral issue, it’s an ethical issue, and our internal discussions around this case was among the scientists, but unanimously they decided to maintain the cannabis rule.”
Marijuana use, to some extent, has been legalised in Jamaica, some states in the US, and many other countries.
Banta led a WADA team to Jamaica, which engaged nine sports ministers and other government representatives from 13 Caribbean countries on ways to strengthen the region’s anti-doping.
Following up on a virtual forum in 2022, the two-day meetings signalled the second WADA symposium for regional sporting leaders. Speaking at its closing press conference on Friday, Banka encouraged governments to double down on anti-doping efforts, implement more robust testing strategies, ensure athletes are properly educated on the subject, and ensure that they have a strong legal framework, given that all the cases are decided before a tribunal.