Congressman from Tennessee Steven Cohen on Wednesday joined the chorus of condemnation against the decision to ban United States sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for marijuana.
Speaking at a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Steve Cohen mocked the reasoning offered up for Richardson’s one-month suspension.
“Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” said Congressman Cohen, a Democrat who represents Tennessee’s ninth district. “To take her right to appear, her dream, away from her, is absurd.”
Richardson, 21, is set to miss this summer’s Olympics after a positive marijuana test rendered her results at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials invalid. She won the 100-meter dash at the trials last month in Oregon and was a favorite to win gold in Tokyo.
Marijuana is banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances, and both the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee adhere to the global body’s code.
The USADA explains that marijuana is banned because it could pose a health and safety risk to athletes and that cannabis can be performance-enhancing for some.
That latter explanation has been roundly mocked, including by Congressman Cohen on Wednesday. The congressman used his time at the hearing, which dealt with a reform effort to end sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, to excoriate the War on Drugs and call on fellow members of Congress to deschedule and decriminalize pot.
Congressman Cohen Goes Off on Failed War on Drugs
“Congress should see that we don’t have these problems in the future. We deschedule marijuana. We leave it up to the states. If [Richardson had] gotten rip-roaring drunk on margaritas, Red Bull or whatever else you drink out there these days, lagers, she’d have been fine because it wouldn’t have shown up in her system, and if it had shown up in her system––if she’d have been .02 alcohol––she still would have been allowed to run,” Congressman Cohen said.
“But for marijuana, that could have been 20 days ago, and just a puff or two, she’s gone. So let’s get real. The War on Drugs is a total failure. Nancy Reagan was wrong. Everybody who followed her and the others who said, ‘Just say no,’ were wrong because that wasn’t sufficient. Let’s pass this bill, and let’s decriminalize marijuana, and let’s get our people to where they are not being afflicted by the cultural lag of the United States Congress,” he added
After the positive test result was made public, Richardson appeared on the Today show to apologize to fans and express regret for the decision.
“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Richardson said. “I know what I did and what I’m not supposed to do. I know what I’m not allowed to do, and I still made that decision. Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case but being in that position of my life and finding out something like that—something that I would say has impacted my life positively and negatively in my life when it comes to dealing with the relationship with my mother—that definitely was a heavy topic on me.”
At a time when a growing number of states have legalized recreational marijuana use, Richardson’s suspension feels like a relic of a previous era. And legalization looks poised to go federal.
In May, Congressman Cohen’s Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives introduced the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2021, which would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis. And last week, Democrats in the Senate introduced their own marijuana reform legislation.