Thought Leadership

Sha’Carri Richardson Has No Reason to Apologize

As cannabis industry leaders, we are unequivocally disappointed to see yet another American athlete penalized for using the plant to take care of their mental health.

By Rosie Mattio and Kim Rivers July 13, 2021

Just before the 4th of July holiday weekend, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reported that sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified from running the 100-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for THC. During Ms. Richardson’s interview on NBC the following morning, she revealed that she consumed cannabis after learning about the death of her biological mother during the Olympic trials and apologized for her actions, saying “I apologize for the fact that I didn’t even know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”

As cannabis industry leaders, we are unequivocally disappointed to see yet another American athlete penalized for using the plant to take care of their mental health. Over the past year, consumption rates in the U.S. climbed to record levels, and cannabis is now commonly used as a natural alternative to manage stress and anxiety. Additionally, more research supporting decades of anecdotal evidence about the holistic benefits of cannabis is being published every year.

Who’s really at fault

At the end of the day, Ms. Richardson is being punished for using a plant that is accessible to over 40 percent of Americans and legal in her own state of residence. It is appalling to see a world-class athlete apologize for using cannabis to overcome a traumatic emotional experience because of archaic, and quite frankly destructive, doping policies. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) explicitly says that their Code “was never designed to be a document that stood still,” but it will require reasonable and forward-thinking leaders to champion reforms that actually protect the well-being of athletes.

The people who should be held accountable for putting Ms. Richardson, and numerous other athletes, in this unfair position are U.S. lawmakers. Politico cannabis reporter Natalie Fertig pointed out that international drug laws, which largely dictate WADA guidelines, were pushed by the U.S. during The United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. The federal government then reinforced its anti-cannabis stance when the Clinton Administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy fought for the IOC to list marijuana as a banned substance during the height of the War on Drugs. While current lawmakers are attempting to undo the socioeconomic damage caused by the failed War on Drugs at home, they must also address the devastating global impact of cannabis prohibition.

This starts with legalizing cannabis at the federal level and advocating for safe and legal cannabis access abroad. Inconsistent cannabis laws are costing thousands of Americans, especially people of color, their livelihoods across all sectors. Until Congress passes consequential cannabis reforms, talented Americans like Sha’Carri Richardson will continue to lose out on hard-earned opportunities.

The U.S. has been a consistent leader in spearheading global policies and has a responsibility to leverage its political clout to decriminalize cannabis around the world. In the meantime, we will continue to support and advocate for any adult who chooses to use cannabis for their mental health.

Kim Rivers is the CEO of Trulieve, and Rosie Mattio is Founder of MATTIO Communications