Why Sha’Carri Richardson Being Left Off The US Olympics Team For Using Marijuana Is Rooted In Racism

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Sha'Carri Richardson

In a deeply upsetting development, it's been announced that Sha’Carri Richardson will not compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics this summer.

The sprinter was officially left off the USA Track & Field (USATF) roster, even though her marijuana-related suspension will end in time for her relay event.

Richardson, who wowed at last week's Olympic trials, was suspended from competition for 30 days after testing positive for THC, a chemical found in marijuana that is considered a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

With the women's 4x100-meter relay scheduled to take place after her suspension ends, it was expected that the track and field star would still have a shot at competing to win an Olympic medal.

However, USATF announced on Tuesday that they had not selected Richardson for the relay team.

The heartbreaking turn of events for one of the nation’s most promising Olympic stars has been heavily criticized as Richardson becomes one of many Black Americans whose chances for success has been hindered by racist drug policies.

Olympic marijuana bans are rooted in racist American policies.

Marijuana’s status as an illicit drug stems from the largely racist and unscientific ideology that was spread in the 1930s and 40s.

Marijuana, which had been historically used as a medicinal drug without any federal restrictions, was popularized by Mexican immigrants and later became a means of disparaging minorities.

The drug became associated with jazz music and Black people defying their place in society. Later, marijuana was confusingly classified as a Schedule I drug — alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, drugs which cause thousands of overdoses a year.

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Communities of color became consistent targets for cannabis laws.

Black Americans are arrested for cannabis offenses at a rate of nearly 4:1 compared to white Americans, despite usage rates being roughly the same.

Considering the US has historically donated massive funding to the World Anti-Doping Agency — which controls the Olympics’ drug rules — the nation’s drug laws have likely influenced sports regulations.

Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension is a result of racist drug regulations.

Though America’s attitude towards cannabis is changing, the racist applications of outdated marijuana laws are still prevalent.

Marijuana has now been legalized for recreational use in 18 states and Washington D.C. One such state, Oregon, is where Richardson tested positive.

The Olympics is continuing to fight a war on drugs fostered by racist US policies, even as much of America has moved on.

And it’s so painfully fitting that a Black woman carry the consequences of these archaic policies and perspectives on marijuana usage.

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Richardson’s unique aesthetic on the running track has always been an unapologetic celebration of Blackness.

Now, before she can even reach the starting line at the Tokyo Olympics, she has been tripped up by policies designed to punish the Blackness she represents.

Richardson’s exclusion from the Olympics echoes the plight of many Black Americans who sit in prison cells for marijuana offenses in states that have since legalized the drug.

White America has come to embrace the drug as medicinal and largely harmless, yet Black Americans continue to pay the price for policies they had limited involvement in.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.