Among the Drug War's finer ironies is the treatment of marijuana by the world of sport, which has taken a deliciously schizophrenic view on the miracle/devil plant: It's a gateway drug that dooms its users to a lifetime of apathy, ignorance, and nonproduction. It's also a performance-enhancer, in the same category as steroids, and subject to the same bans by the World Anti-Doping Agency -- the body that, eventually, stripped BALCO alums of their awards.
While cannabis' benefit to athletes is suspect (if a drug has no medical value, how can it help high-performance bodies?), it's no secret pot can damage an athletes' career. Openly using medical cannabis -- and testing positive for marijuana use -- has derailed the career of UFC fighter Nick Diaz; another MMA fighter, who once spoke freely to us about cannabis' benefits to elite athletes, found himself marginalized afterward. And few can forget Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps losing sponsors after someone photographed the gold medalist pulling a giant bong rip, or NFL running back Ricky Williams' demonization as a weirdo and druggie for using cannabis.
This week, Australian sports leagues -- Aussie-rules football, rugby, and the smokers' favorite, cricket -- petitioned WADA to get real and drop marijuana from the list of substances that can earn athletes a two-year ban. And, perhaps surprisingly, WADA President John Fahey promised it would be considered.
Under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, a substance is "matchday banned" -- meaning any athlete testing positive for it on a day of competition is cheating -- if it meets two out of three criteria: It's performance enhancing, it's against the "spirit of sport," or it's dangerous to athletes' health.
Marijuana, the Australian athletes' representatives argue, doesn't fit the two-out-of-three threshhold. Or if it does, the science simply isn't there.
WADA won't update its list until November 2013. But when it does, Fahey promised that the agency would consider removing cannabis, if an entity like the Australians petition for it.
An athlete can receive a two-year ban for testing positive for a WADA-banned substance. Keep in mind that marijuana is fat-soluble; this means it can stay in the body for weeks after use. So an elite athlete could use marijuana and run a race two weeks later -- and lose the ability to compete for another two years.
This won't affect many American athletes. NFL players, for example, compete in a private business that sets its own rules (among which seem to be "steroids good; marijuana bad"). Fighters like Diaz, likewise, are banned from using pot by entities like the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which does not necessarily take cues from WADA.
Oddly enough, among the sports in which pot can aid competitors, according to the UK Guardian? Pistol shooting and golf.