The suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive marijuana test has led many to call for changes to Olympics rules—with even President Joe Biden, top White House officials and American sports regulators saying it might be time to reconsider punishing athletes for cannabis.
But how did the sports prohibition get imposed in the first place? Marijuana Moment spoke to the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to gain further insights into how the policy unfolded, which turns out to be the result of pressure from the U.S. itself.
Some of those who’ve defended the action against Richardson have made the case that, since cannabis is strictly prohibited in other countries, it wouldn’t make sense to set aside an international rule just because legalization is advancing in the U.S. But in reality, it was the U.S. in the 1990s that played the leading role in bullying the athletic governing body to add cannabis to the list of banned substances for the Olympics in the first place.
For example, then-U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who served under President Bill Clinton, sent a 10-page memo to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1998 that said the games “must adopt a comprehensive anti-drug program” that should include punishing participants who test positive for recreational drugs like marijuana, according to an Associated Press report at the time.
“We raise Olympic athletes up on international pedestals for all the world’s children to look up to as role models—it is vital that the message they send is drug free,″ McCaffrey, then the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which provided $1 million in funding to IOC to combat drug use, said. “The goal of this whole effort must be to prevent Olympic medals and the Olympic movement