Should Marijuana Be Banned in the Olympics?

Amid the preparations for the Olympics set to begin at the end of July, and as athletes capture the world’s attention once more, something else is threatening to break focus—marijuana and the controversial rules in place banning athletes who test positive from competing. 

The result of the drug test confirming that runner Sha’Carri Richardson had marijuana in her system—effectively banning her from one month of competition, and thus, the Olympics—has been a popular issue of debate in the past month. Many on social media have risen to her defense, among them Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), calling the anti-marijuana bans unfair and a byproduct of systemic racism. 

While that is not an accusation to be thrown around lightly, for us at The Haven, our gaze is drawn to another concerning message that affects us to the core of our mission: addiction and the way we learn to cope with the challenges we face. Before you assume that this is a “slippery slope” argument, or are prepared to defend why the statement “all drugs are bad” is false, hear us out. All drug use may not be bad, (after all, we do believe in harm reduction) but all drug use warrants our attention. 

The Sha’Carri Richardson Story

In an interview on the day of the announcement, Richardson explains the series of events that led to the positive drug test. She admitted that her marijuana use was in reaction to learning of her mother’s death from a reporter while in Oregon for the trials. Understandably, the news was shocking to Richardson, who was raised by her grandmother, although all involved regret that she chose to deal with her emotions by using marijuana. By her own admission, she shares, “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time,” calling it “a state of emotional panic.” Richardson’s ownership of the misstep was commendable, as she tweeted to her supporters, “I greatly apologize if I let you guys down, and I did.”

While marijuana is legal and even decriminalized in Oregon, where the trials were held, it remains on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. Of course, Richardson learned the hard way that the decriminalization of drugs in Oregon doesn’t protect you against all consequences. While many tout the non-addictive physical properties of marijuana, it’s important to recognize that no substance—illicit or prescribed to you by your doctor—is without risk. 

In truth, this is the exact sort of thing that leniency in our attitude towards substance use allows for. A way to numb the pain, and distract from the death of her mother, yes, but not a way to make it any less real. It’s easy to see how those who support Richardson and those who advocate for legalized marijuana use want to bend the rules, looking to excuse the behavior out of empathy for her situation, but if we don’t hold people accountable, how can we expect them to act any differently in the future? 

We can have empathy for her situation, and yet still uphold the rules in place. Richardson received the minimum sentencing for a positive drug screen (30 days plus substance abuse treatment like we offer at The Haven) that, at maximum, could have lasted up to two years. While that may not look like the kind of concessions that many on social media are calling for, we cannot expect international rules to be changed overnight or for just one athlete.  

Whether Marijuana is an appropriate way to cope with the stress in your life is another matter, but the truth of Richardson’s situation is that it was the wrong coping skill for her, given her responsibility to her fans, her sponsors, and her own future. 

Our thoughts turn to how Sha’Carri is coping now, with the feelings of disappointment, lingering unfulfilled dreams, and newfound time on her hands. It is perhaps not discussed enough about the incredible stress, high expectations, and little assistance in other areas of life our elite athletes receive, as they pay a steep price for the chance to represent our country on a global stage. 

In the hours proceeding the public’s awareness of the results of the drug test, Richardson tweeted “I am human,” and later asked that we reserve our judgment and remember that we’re all the same. On all accounts, she is right, and we can only hope to learn from the reality of her situation, and apply its lessons to our own lives. With accountability, intentionality, and a few more coping skills at our disposal, we too can be proud of the way that we handle ourselves in our daily lives. 

If you or someone you love is looking to reevaluate your relationship with substances like marijuana or alcohol, reach out to us today to learn about our addiction treatment programs, and our virtual IOP that you can take part in right from the comfort of your own home!

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