Marijuana Reform Advocates Decry Dallas Runner Sha'Carri Richardson's Suspension

Marijuana reform advocates believe Sha'Carri Richardson should be allowed to compete in the Olympics.
Marijuana reform advocates believe Sha'Carri Richardson should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash
Dallas native Sha’Carri Richardson sprinted into the international spotlight last month, earning the title of America’s fastest woman just days after her biological mother had died. Yet the 21-year-old’s dream of participating in the Tokyo Olympics may have all but evaporated when she tested positive for using marijuana.

In June, during the Oregon-based track and field Olympic trials, Richardson won the women’s 100-meter dash. But on Friday, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced she'd accepted a one-month suspension following the positive drug test.

Richardson is disqualified from participating in the 100-meter race later this month, but she could be cleared in time for the 4x100-meter relay.

Marijuana reform advocates immediately decried the news, saying outdated policies shouldn’t crush Richardson’s Olympic goals. Weed is legal in 19 states — including in Oregon, where Richardson tested positive. Earlier this year, her hometown of Dallas also eased up on its own weed policy.

Texas Democratic politician Mike Siegel recently co-founded Ground Game Texas, a progressive nonprofit with an emphasis on “workers, wages and weed.” Richardson was an inspiration to watch, he said.

“She was so fast that she had time to look around and point at the crowd as she was finishing the race, she was that far ahead,” Siegel said. “And the idea that she’s not going to be able to represent our country because she smoked this weed plant to kind of ease her personal pain is just obscene.”

Richardson told NBC on Friday that she’d learned from a reporter during an interview that her biological mother had died. She said she’d used marijuana to cope.

The history of marijuana enforcement is part and parcel of systemic racism and injustice against the Black community, Siegel said. Marijuana laws, similar to vagrancy laws, have always disproportionately affected certain populations. In Austin, where Siegel lives, college frat houses are rarely targeted for drug raids, but police frequently crack down on working-class neighborhoods.

“It’s just an absurd perversion of what’s fair and right." – Mike Siegel, Ground Game Texas political director

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The war on drugs was a way to continue the post-slavery attack on the country’s Black communities, Siegel said. That’s the context in which this “assault” on Richardson — a world-class athlete and inspirational figure — is occurring.

For her to be sidelined by taking medicine for depression in the face of personal tragedy is incredibly disappointing, he said. In the context of racist drug enforcement, this is unfortunately another blow to the idea the U.S. is a country of equality under the law, he added.

“It’s just an absurd perversion of what’s fair and right,” Siegel said. “For me, the only reason this drug is still on the list of prohibited items for athletes is a target against the Black community, because it’s just a continuation of Jim Crow enforcement of drug laws.”

While marijuana is still illegal in many states, including Texas, legalization is wildly popular. Marijuana Moment reported nearly 90% of Texas voters believe it should be legal in some form.

Nationwide, support is just as widespread. Around 3 in 5 American adults say marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medical use, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. An additional 31% say it should be legal for medicinal purposes only.

Popularity aside, it’s time to acknowledge that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug, said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. He argued that the Olympic drug policy is outdated, saying the criminalization of marijuana has also become embedded in the sports bureaucracy.

There’s no good reason to penalize athletes who use marijuana, he said. If anything, it’s a positive alternative to some of the prescription drugs that athletes are given to treat pain, which can be dangerous and highly addictive.

Richardson’s case is a stark reminder of how absurd and illogical the country’s cannabis policies are, Schweich said.

“Athletes can consume as much alcohol as they want. And alcohol is a substance that if you consume too much, you can overdose and die, and yet with cannabis, a person gets banned,” he said. “It makes no sense at all.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter