The Explainer: Is it doping if there is no performance enhancement?
I am a 48-year-old masters’ racer. I have a degenerative lower back problem that causes me a lot of pain. I have tried everything to control or reduce that pain, from yoga (which has helped) to prescription pain killers, including Vicodin (which has some ugly side-effects and is addictive). My son finally convinced me to try medical marijuana. It worked and, because I live in Colorado, it’s even legal.
I’ve been using it for 14 months now and I have not really noticed any major effect on my riding, since I don’t use that much, use it orally, rather than smoking it and continue to exercise.
My big question is whether I can get popped for a “doping” positive, if I get tested at a bike race. I’ve heard that marijuana is not banned when it comes to cycling, but I’ve Googled up contradictory information.
I have a Colorado prescription. Should I try to get a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption)?
On a side note, I am planning on coming back to your part of the world and racing in the Dead Dog Classic this summer. Should I assume that my Colorado ‘script won’t do me any good in Wyoming?
Let’s start with your TUE question. The short answer is a simple “NO.”
Colorado’s medical marijuana provisions do allow for prescriptions, but those “prescriptions” have a rather unique legal status (more on that later) and are not recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the UCI or USA Cycling. There is no provision to have a request for a TUE approved. (That said, if you want to give it a shot some time, give me a call. It would be an interesting test.)
Marijuana’s status when it comes to sports doping has been interesting to follow. Clearly, when it comes to cycling, it’s going to be hard to argue that marijuana’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is, in any way, performance-enhancing.
Since the early days of the World Anti-Doping Agency, cannabinoids – like marijuana and hashish – were included in the list of substances banned under the agency’s “in-competition” provisions. That meant that as long as you weren’t under the influence of marijuana while competing, you were okay.
WADA pretty much left enforcement up to the individual governing bodies. In cycling, where no one gets much of a competitive advantage from marijuana, testing for the substance is pretty minimal. In snow-boarding, where being completely ripped might actually be an advantage, the governing body has taken a stronger position.
In cycling, there are only a few examples of riders being popped for detectable THC levels. In 2007, there were two riders who tested positive for cannabis, the Ukraine’s Svitlana Semchouk and Poland’s Rafal Kumorowski both tripped the Dopo-Meter™ for pot. Frankly, I’ve had trouble finding any others. In both of those cases, by the way, the riders’ results of the races in which they tested positive were negated and each received a warning. There was no suspension in either case. And no, I have no idea how well they performed in those races, although I have to imagine it wasn’t that great and that these two were each random test subjects.
It’s important to keep in mind that the marijuana you consume today may show up on test for quite some time. THC is retained in body fat. Unlike alcohol, which is quickly metabolized, marijuana may show up in a urine sample for up to two weeks after it is consumed – either by eating it or smoking it.
Off hand, I would say that your occasional use of medical marijuana will probably not cause you major problems in cycling. If you did test positive, your most reasonable defense would be that your levels were such that it doesn’t constitute “in-competition” use. I wouldn’t guarantee that your defense would be successful, but it’s worth making the argument.
If it helps you control the pain, I’d say it’s worth the risk. Out-of-competition use is not barred under existing rules and history seems to show that marijuana is not considered to be much of a factor in cycling. Of course, those could be famous last words. I would exercise some caution and discretion when making the decision to use medical marijuana.
Now, to your last question. I am quite pleased to hear that you are thinking about coming to Laramie to race the Dead Dog, which our local shop owner, my racing buddies and I started … let’s see here … twenty-nine years ago?!?!?!?
Well, my answer is much clearer on this one. Don’t do it.
Just say no … to crossing the border
That Colorado “prescription” is useful only in Colorado and the only reason that it is useful in Colorado is that the Federal government has pretty much stayed on the sidelines. In response to last fall’s decisions by Washington and Colorado voters to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, President Obama quipped that the Federal government has “more important issues” to deal with than to go after states in which voters approved the recreational use of marijuana. I’m sure the President also realized that while he carried Colorado in the last election, that state’s marijuana initiative, Amendment 64, had a bigger margin of victory than he did.
That’s a tentative status, though. A change of attitude or a change of administrations could put both medical and recreational marijuana laws at the state level at risk.
No matter what, though, you will not be welcomed with open arms (unless those arms are holding handcuffs) when you cross into Wyoming or other states without such laws. I’ll address Wyoming’s approach, since you’re planning on coming here and I have a bit more experience with the issue in this state (as a lawyer, folks).
Back in the day, Wyoming Statute 35-7-1031 (c) was at least a little unclear as to how the state would handle prescribed marijuana.
It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by this act.
But to underscore Wyoming’s position on its neighbor’s adoption of medical marijuana rules, the Wyoming State Legislature revised Wyoming Statute 35-7-1031 (c) to include “no prescription or practitioner’s order for marihuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or synthetic equivalents of marihuana or tetrahydrocannabinol shall be valid.”
If you are caught with less than three ounces in Wyoming – and it’s a first offense – it’s a misdemeanor and you can face up to a year in jail and be fined up to $1000.
If you have more than three ounces, it’s a felony and the penalties go up to five years in prison and $10,000.
Keep in mind that if you were to bring, for example, brownies, to Wyoming the statute may cause you problems, because it notes that in determining weight, officials are to include “the weight of the controlled substance and the weight of any carrier element, cutting agent, diluting agent or any other substance excluding packaging material.”
Theoretically, a pound of brownies, even they include less than half-an-ounce of pot, could be classified as a felony, since flour, chocolate and sugar would fall into the category of “any carrier element, cutting agent, diluting agent or any other substance….”
So don’t do it. Colorado’s rather casual approach to medical and recreational marijuana use stops at the border. The laws in this state are, in comparison, draconian. Law enforcement is pretty amped, too, given that the Wyoming State Patrol, county sheriffs and local cops are all keeping an eye peeled for cars traveling up from Colorado.
If you are pulled over, don’t ever, ever, ever consent to a search of your vehicle. Politely decline and simply offer the following: “I understand you are just doing your job, Officer, but I never consent to searches.”
Don’t interfere with the officer if he or she does conduct a search. That will cause you even more problems.
Enjoy your trip to Wyoming, Roger. Just do yourself a favor and leave your herbal pain remedies at home when you do.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.