Mexican professional boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. made headlines last week as he was suspended for nine months and fined $900,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) for failing a drug test. No, it wasn’t a steroid or any other type of performance-enhancing substance—it was marijuana.
Chavez tested positive after his Sept. 6, 2012 fight against Sergio Martinez. The fine equates to about 30 percent of Chavez’s $3 million dollar pay from one of the biggest fights of the year.
The fine was said to be multiplied by the commission because it was his second offense in the state in four years. Chavez had previously been fined by the commission in 2009 for testing positive for Furosemide, which is a diuretic typically prescribed to help cut weight but is often used as a masking agent to cover steroid use.
Though this is technically his second offense, I don’t believe that testing positive for marijuana warrants a fine or suspension as harsh as what was handed down to Chavez. I don’t understand the advantage that a pot-smoking athlete would have.
The World Anti-Doping Code states that “For a substance to be considered for inclusion on the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, it needs to meet any two of the following three criteria: be performance enhancing, potentially a health risk, and against the spirit of the sport.”
Under those three criteria, I don’t believe that a solid argument could be upheld for each one of the criteria, let alone two out of the three.
The argument of whether or not marijuana is a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) has been hotly debated for years.
In an article on ESPN.com, Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor and lead author of the book Drugs and the Athlete, addressed the issue of marijuana when it comes to sports performance. He states that marijuana has no performance-enhancing potential—in fact, it has more adverse effects when it comes to an athlete’s performance. According to Wadler, the drug impairs hand-eye coordination, motor coordination, concentration and exercise capacity.
Even more perplexing, the NSAC allows fighters to compete as long as their testosterone levels are within six times the human average (6:1). The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) allows up to a 4:1 ratio. How can this possibly be legal while testing positive for marijuana, which has no performance enhancing capability, carries such heavy punishment?
Even UFC President Dana White took to twitter to chime in on Chavez’s fine and suspension. “Chavez Jr was fined 900k by the NSAC for testing pos for marijuana!! The NSAC has officially lost its mind,” White tweeted on Feb. 28.
White may have implied that it was foolish to punish Chavez so harshly for his marijuana use, but the UFC had no problem releasing fighter Matt Riddle after his second positive test for the same substance. A statement by the UFC addressed Riddle’s release, “The UFC organization has a strict, consistent policy against the use of any illegal and/or performance-enhancing drugs, stimulants or masking agents.”
Though the performance-enhancing capabilities of the drug are still up for debate, the illegality of Riddle’s use should not apply because he has a medical marijuana prescription. In an interview with BJPenn.com Radio Riddle said, “I got fired over taking my medicine because I don’t want to take pharmaceutical drugs or testosterone. This is what works for me.”
Despite experts denying marijuana’s performance enhancing capabilities and individual states beginning to legalize it, it is still taboo in the athletic world. Until sports organizations stop putting the substance in the same category with anabolic steroids and harder drugs, athletes will just have to play by the organization’s rules or pay a hefty price.