The World Anti-Doping Agency has raised the threshold for a positive marijuana test, significantly reducing the likelihood of detection for athletes who use the drug. What this might mean for the PGA Tour is uncertain.
Under the Tour’s Anti-Doping Policy, enacted in 2008, cannabinoids – which include marijuana – are considered recreational drugs and not performance-enhancing. The Tour tests for the drugs under an unknown threshold and holds players accountable, but a violation is considered as recreational, not performance-enhancing. Thus, any violation would not be publicly disclosed.
Tour spokesman Ty Votaw would not comment on WADA’s move, saying the Tour was made aware of the change Monday.
In a May 12 meeting of its Executive Committee and Foundation Board in Montreal, WADA focused on final revisions of the agency’s code, which is scheduled to be updated in 2015. WADA moved the threshold for a positive test for marijuana from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. That means that athletes who use marijuana weeks or months before an event would be far less likely to test positive under the revised threshold than those who would use the drug in the hours or days before competition.
“We wanted to focus on the athletes that abuse the substance in competition,” said Julie Masse, WADA’s director of communications, from her office in Montreal. “This should exclude cases where marijuana is not used in competition.”
Marijuana and cannabis have been deemed prohibited substances by WADA since the agency’s original list, in 2003. According to Richard Pound, an attorney who was WADA’s initial chief and still serves on the Foundation Board, the U.S. historically has regarded marijuana as an entry-level drug and not considered to be performance-enhancing. American sports officials lobbied hard for the drug’s ban in athletics.
“From a sports perspective, I was rather ambivalent (toward marijuana),” Pound said. “As we morphed into WADA, the USA was very keen to have it included.”
Under the former threshold, Pound said that an athlete who used marijuana a month before competition was likely to be detected, as was someone exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke two weeks before an event.
“The 150 threshold number seemed to satisfy the scientific community,” Pound said.
In March, during the third consultation phase of the 2015 code review, Edward Jurith, senior counsel of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, urged that marijuana remain on WADA’s list of prohibited substances. According to Masse and Pound, discussions about removing marijuana as a banned substance have been ongoing since the list’s inception 10 years ago. A message left with Jurith at his White House office was not immediately returned.
Among the comments in the March consultation, WADA’s Athlete Committee posed: ”Can a threshold be looked at for marijuana? There is no desire to go soft on the list, but members want cheaters to be caught for cheating, not for recreational usage.”
Others within WADA had similar reservations about the competitive advantages of marijuana use by athletes.
College athletics, however, have gone in the opposite direction from WADA. In January, the NCAA changed its threshold number from 15 to 5, with the goal of detecting in-competition and out-of-competition use. A message left with the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, was not immediately returned.