The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) struck marijuana as a punishable offense in its anti-doping policy until very recently. Now, in the world of sports, UFC fighters will no longer be subject to punishment for using marijuana under the organization’s anti-doping policy.
The UFC and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which manages the policy for the mixed martial arts league, announced recently that a significant change to the program’s rules on cannabis and cannabinoid constituents is about to be instilled. This article looks at how this decision came to be and what the implications are.
Why the Change?
Reportedly, the UFC and USADA are in cahoots to make these changes because of the strong conviction that there’s no scientific correlation between levels of THC in the body and actual impairment.
What must be the focal point of the argument is that the effects of THC last for hours, not days – so why would anyone care what someone did a week before? Especially when it doesn’t have an effect on their ability to fight.
It is contended that many fighters use marijuana in lieu of opioids or depressant drugs like Xanax or Ambien. And this is not something that should be punished or criminalized. To the contrary. So, there is now a general consensus in favor of lessened cannabis-related penalties.
This change is furthermore designed to prioritize fighter health and safety by not punishing fighters who may need treatment for substance abuse, which may lead to a fighter being impaired and endanger his or her safety. These changes are effective immediately, though local jurisdiction rules will still apply.
What is the goal of the UFC Anti-Doping program? Reportedly, it is to protect the rights of sober athletes by discouraging intentional tricksters and holding those who choose to fix accountable in a fair and efficient manner.
These amended rules are aimed at these ends, and to further embed the focus on preventing intentional cheating. This new law in sport aims not to unnecessarily punish athletes for behavior that does not impact the competition in any negative way. Simple enough. So, who exactly is behind the driving force of the UFC? Read on to learn more.
Who is Steering This Change?
As the UFC removes marijuana from anti-doping rules, Jeff Novitzky is the one behind the steering wheel.
Current Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC, Novitzky particularly notes how after discussions with athletes, the main use of marijuana came was parallel to those who were experiencing anxiety, sleeping issues, pain and discomfort.
Based on his informal discussion with athletes, he found a significant number of percentage of athletes that choose to use marijuana, many for legitimate reasons outside of recreational. It is contended that many athletes use cannabis for pain control, anti-anxiety, insomnia, instead of more dangerous, more addictive drugs.
Hopefully, this will be the first step in opening the option up to athletes to opt for a cannabis smoke in lieu of a Vicodin because their knee hurts and they can’t sleep. Why not allow them the human right to use a little bit of cannabis and get to sleep and have that pain controlled?
The athlete’s use of cannabis – whether recreational or medical or a combination of both – does not affect whatsoever on a competition they will partake in a week from now. This statement is still up for debate among some, however…
So, What’s the Current Stance?
With much excitement, this revision and the specific policy change was passed this passed Jan. 1, 2021. The precise and current legal stance? A positive drug test for THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – will no longer be considered a violation.
That is, unless the USADA (US Anti-doping Agency) is wants to prove that an athlete intentionally used it for performance-enhancing purposes.
UFC’s Jeff Novitzky reportedly told ESPN that the decision involves USADA’s burden of proof on any positive drug tests for cannabis that would be extremely high.
As per Novitzky’s convictions, the USADA would have to prove beyond any doubt, a fighter’s impairment due to cannabis just prior to a fight in order to successfully impose a sanction.
Is the Fight Really Over?
Even in the light of the positive news, fighters are not totally out of the woods yet. While USADA will no longer be stringent on positive marijuana tests, most athletic commissions that oversee UFC events may still be. Looking at the Nevada State Athletic Commission, we can see the fight is not over.
Just recently, the NSAC still suspended fighters up to nine months and overturned victories to no contests for testing positive for cannabis. They also recently suspended official UFC fighter Bevon Lewis for six months and fined him an additional $1,200 for a positive cannabis test.
The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) is also still fining fighters $100 for positive marijuana tests with no other sanction.
With loopholes and some unsolved irregularities in the new policy, the battle is not over. In the dim light of its opponents, the fight to free professional fighters to practice the right to choose the way in which they medicate – isn’t over, yet. The title to this article may now be rephrased to ‘UFC Removes Marijuana from Anti-doping Rules, but Opponents Remain.’