Olympic athletes: they're just like us. They get high, all the time (lookin' at you, Phelps), and shit — they should. Given what they put their bodies through and the mental anguish of competition and perfectionism, they, perhaps more than anyone, deserve a bong rip or 20.
Yet, for the longest time, the slightest inkling of THC on an Olympian's drug test would disqualify them from competition. They'd lose endorsements, have medals revoked, and see the entirety of their athletic career end in an instant over a teensy, tiny, poorly timed hit of a substance they needed to manage their pain and stress. As far as Olympic officials were concerned, athletes smoking weed was no different than athletes smoking heroin.
But, this 2016 Olympics, the attitude toward weed is different. This time around, marijuana is legal in over half the United States for medicinal and recreational purposes, not to mention decriminalized in 21 other states and a handful of nations around the world. So, with this newfound reefer love, what's the deal with Olympic athletes and weed?
While cannabis is still currently on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned substances list, the organization has recently raised the limit of weed allowed in an athlete’s system to reflect 150 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in order to comply with increasingly lax attitudes towards pot and a greater understanding of its medical uses. That's 30 times more than the amount of THC Colorado drivers can have in their blood to be considered DUI-worthy.
What does this mean for the athletes, then? Well, as long as they don't show up stoned as fuck to the games or perform high, Olympic officials simply don't give two shits. Athletes can can bury their muscular little faces in kilos of pot at any time, as long as it's not during the actual event. Apparently, this rule has been in place since 2013 (one year before legalization in Colorado), but it's only becoming visible now with the buzz around the Rio games.
“Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption,” Ben Nichols, a spokesperson for WADA told USA Today. “The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition.”
Oddly enough, weed has only been on WADA's banned substances list since 1999 when Olympic officials stripped snowboarder Ross Rebagliati's gold medal for a positive marijuana test. However, they eventually had to give it back because at that time, pot was not actually a banned substance. So, rather than leave it that way, they used their embarrassment over the Rebagliati incident to go ahead and ban marijuana use for everyone else. The ol' "It's not illegal? Well it is now" move strikes again.
But the real question is, why do Olympic officials even care about marijuana? Since the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is an international organization and is not bound by any one country's stance on marijuana, why all the effort to keep their precious athletes from getting high?
Well, in short, some people think weed is a performance-enhancing substance, hence its placement on the WADA's banned substances list.
In a 2014 interview with Aljazeera America, Dr. Richard Budgett, medical director for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), explained the three criteria that qualify a drug to be included on the banned substances list: performance enhancement qualities, health risk factors and whether it goes against the spirit of the sport. In regard to marijuana, Budgett said it “is at least two of those: harmful to health and against the spirit of the sport.”
Debatable, Budgett. Debatable.
So debatable that WADA's newly evolved weed policy is the direct result of what High Times called a "heated negotiation between those members of the committee who do not consider marijuana to be a performance enhancement drug and those, like IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist, who believes, 'yes, marijuana can be a performance-enhancing stimulant.'”
TL;DR: Basically, the Olympics now treats weed similarly to how it does alcohol. As long as you're not high or drunk when you're on the uneven bars, you're golden. Hopefully quite literally.