Olympic sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters this summer are gone after she tested positive for marijuana.
Richardson is facing a 30-day suspension for her positive test. She will not compete in the 100 in Tokyo, which is scheduled for July 31. There was some hope that Richardson might be able to compete in the 4×100 relay, which is set for Aug. 6, as her suspension will be up by then.
However, her positive test disqualified her winning time in the U.S. trials, so she will not participate in the 100.
After the reports of Richardson’s suspension went online, many commenters began wondering why Michael Phelps was able to compete in the Olympics after a photo of him smoking weed from a bong, which he confirmed was authentic, leaked in 2009.
Here’s how Richardson’s situation compares to Phelps’:
Was Michael Phelps suspended for smoking weed?
Richardson is facing a 30-day suspension for testing positive for marijuana. Phelps’ penalty after the photo leaked was much stiffer.
USA Swimming suspended Phelps from competition for three months and said that it would withdraw its financial support of him.
The fallout from Phelps’ suspension included more than just an inability to compete, though. Kellogg announced that it would not renew its expiring sponsorship deal with Phelps.
One other major difference between the Richardson and Phelps cases is the timing.
Phelps was suspended in February 2009, six months after the 2008 Olympics and five months before the 2009 World Championships. Richardson’s suspension goes into effect less than a month before the start of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Another difference between the two situations was Richardson injested marijuana in a state (Oregon) where it is legal, whereas when the Phelps image came out, non-medical use of marijuana was illegal nationwide, although that does not appear to factor into the penalty.
In addition to the suspension, Richardson’s 10.86-second time at the Olympic trials is wiped out, The New York Times and multiple other outlets reported Thursday. That automatically makes her ineligible from competing in the 100-meter race, as the top three finishers advance to the Olympics. None of Phelps’ times were stricken because he never tested positive for marijuana and the photo of him taking hits from the bong came out after the Olympics.
What is the Olympic policy on cannabis?
According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, marijuana is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a foundation created by the International Olympic Committee, in-competition “unless an athlete has an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption.” Use of the drug can result in an “anti-doping rule violation and sanction.” Marijuana is considered a health risk, a performance-enhancing substance and a violation of the “spirit of the sport.” USADA adheres to WADA’s World Anti-Doping Code.
USADA states that an athlete can have cannabis in their system at the time of testing but that the amount cannot exceed 150 nanograms per millileter (ng/mL). The agency also notes that it can take weeks or months for cannabis to leave an athlete’s system and that athletes should consult a doctor about a clearance time between the last usage of cannabis and the date of competition.
WADA lists hashish and marijuana as prohibited forms of cannabinoids while noting that cannabidiol is an exception.
Athletes can be suspended for up to two years under the WADA code for testing positive for marijuana. According to a November 2020 USADA advisory to athletes, the minimum suspension is 30 days if an athlete “can establish that the use of a substance of abuse was out-of-competition and unrelated to sport performance” and “if the athlete successfully completes a substance abuse program that is approved by USADA.”