Cannabis Use at the Olympics: What's Legal and What's Not

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Cannabis use has been banned from Olympic events since 1998, when Canadian snowboarder and gold medal winner Ross Rebagliati tested positive for trace amounts of marijuana during the Nagano Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) even went so far as to strip Rebagliati of his medal, a move that was later overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on the grounds that marijuana testing had not been a requirement of the Nagano Games. While Rebagliati retained his gold medal, he was also fueled with a desire to change the understanding of marijuana and cannabis use internationally. 

And Rebagliati isn't the only one to have his cannabis use turned against him. Over the years, several athletes have been suspended from their country's teams, lost fans and advertising deals, and been disqualified from events. Recreational drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, meth, and heroin (would someone please tell these people to please stop lumping marijuana in with all of these actually dangerous drugs?) are apparently only prohibited while an athlete is in-competition, but as anyone who has had to take a drug test for a new job can tell you, it's difficult to gauge how old the marijuana found in an athlete's bloodstream might be. It could be from two weeks ago or from last night. 

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What Is CBD? 

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is at the heart of the medical marijuana movement and can come in many forms. CBD is different from THC primarily in its effects: while THC use is commonly accompanied by a psychoactive high, CBD is not. 

Unlike recreational or medical marijuana products containing THC, CBD products are easier to find around the U.S. This is due to the lack of psychoactive effects and the fact that CBD comes from the hemp variety of the cannabis sativa plant.

For more information on CBD, check out Leafbuyer's CBD Fact Sheet. 

CBD in the Olympics 

With all of this in mind, 30 years after trying to strip Rebagliati of his medal for having traces of marijuana in his bloodstream, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), with input from over 600 organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), has removed cannabidiol from the prohibited substance list. Thanks to the World Anti-Doping Agency, CBD is now legal for Olympic athletes to consume, which is a major step in the right direction. This helps to start de-stigmatizing marijuana.

THC in the Olympics 

Olympians are still not allowed to use THC products during the Games, though the regulations have loosened up a bit over the years. In 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency enacted a new policy to expand the maximum threshold of the amount of THC found in an athlete's system before penalizing them. This policy increased the allowed amount of THC from 15 to 150 nanograms per milliliter, ten times the amount that had been legal since 1998. This new "legal limit" was brought about to avoid penalizing athletes who smoke on occasion outside of the Olympics and focus on penalizing those who partake in cannabis use while competing in the Games. 

Cannabis Use Around the World 

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The Olympics are best known for the sheer athleticism of participating athletes, the Opening Ceremony, and of course the competition between countries around the world. So what are the different laws for cannabis use in the countries attending the Winter Games? Diving into each one of the participating countries' laws and regulations around marijuana (CBD or THC) would probably fill an entire book, so instead let's focus on the countries that have legalized cannabis possession and use.  

Only two countries that will be attending the 2018 Winter Olympics have legalized marijuana use: Colombia and Spain. That may seem somewhat surprising, given the general (and vocal) shift in opinion toward legalization around the world. However, nations that have decriminalized weed but still consider it illegal at a federal level, or nations with only certain regions having legalized it (such as the United States), are not included in this count. 

For a full list of cannabis legality by country, check out this table. 

Cannabis Use in Pyeongchang 

Although the going is still slow for the World Anti-Doping Agency legalizing THC, CBD is officially legal for Olympic athletes to consume. That's a big step in the right direction! In fact, we can probably expect to see several athletes coming forward to push for more legalization across the world, right? Well, not exactly. 

The 2018 Winter Olympics are being held this year in Pyeongchang, located in South Korea, a country known for its incredibly strict laws concerning cannabis use of any kind. In fact, marijuana use in South Korea, whether for medical or recreational purposes, is still considered a very serious crime. 

So even though the WADA is slowly but surely progressing into the 21st century, it looks like Olympians at the 2018 Winter Games won't be able to use cannabis (CBD or THC) during the event.  

Article by: Daphne Eccleston