Punishments for Cannabis, Cocaine & Other Recreational Drugs to be Reduced in 2021 WADA Code

The World Anti Doping Agency’s (WADA) revised Anti-Doping Code will include a new classification for recreational drugs that will carry a much smaller punishment than before.

From January 1 2021, substances such as cocaine, heroin, MDMA and cannabis will be classified as ‘Substances of Abuse’ as WADA recognizes they can be taken out-of-competition for reasons unrelated to sports performance. These drugs currently carry a four-year ban but if an athlete can prove that their use occurred out-of-competition and was unrelated to sports performance, their ban will now be reduced to three months with no need to further analyze the degree of fault.

The athlete’s ban can be reduced by a further month if they are willing to undertake a treatment program that is approved by their national anti-doping body. If the drug is taken in-competition but the athlete can prove the use was unrelated to performance, a two-year ban will be handed out as the infringement will be considered non-intentional.

WADA has made these changes in the interest of athlete welfare. A spokesperson told Cycling Weekly, “It was felt that the use of these drugs was often unrelated to sport performance. It was felt also that in cases where an athlete has a drug problem and is not seeking or benefitting from performance enhancement, the priority should be on the athlete’s health rather than on imposing a lengthy sporting sanction.” WADA also said that it would rather spend time and money on more serious doping violations rather than substance abuse.

The most high profile case in mountain biking involving one of these substances came from Gary Houseman, who won the Grouse Mountain round of the World Cup in 2003 but was later stripped of the win and fined 2,000 CHF after testing positive for THC. The full story was recently told by Mike Levy, here.

WADA has said it will consider adding more substances to the Substances of Abuse category in the future but started with those it felt were the highest priority.

Other changes to the 2021 WADA code include:

Greater protection for Whistleblowers: Anti-Doping Organisations (ADOs) need people to come forward to report doping. This new rule gives these people more protection and applies if someone is threatened or intimidated in order to discourage them from reporting doping activity to authorities, or they are retaliated against for doing so.

Reintorduciton of Aggravating Circumstances: A ban can be extended for two further years if an athlete is found to be abusing more than one substance.

Results Management Agreement: A bit like pleading guilty in a court, a long ban can be reduced by a year if an athlete admits fault and accepts sanctions within 20 days.

Recreational Athletes to be Treated Differently: Athletes who are below National or International level will be treated differently for sanctioning purposes.

Attempted Concealment and Tampering now Treated as Violations: The attempt to cover up doping or tampering with results by another person will now result in further sanctions.

The 2021 Code can be read in full, here.



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