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Did You Know Why Some Performance Enhancing Drugs Are Legal While Others Are Banned?, from

Did you know why (supposedly) athletes are allowed to use some drugs but not others? Read the details on, part of the family.

Follow Drug War Chronicle for more important facts from over the next several weeks, or sign up for's email list or RSS feed.

Read last week's "Did You Know" Chronicle blurb here. is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.


California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.


Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

NCAA to Tighten Up Marijuana Testing, But Reduce Penalties

The NCAA is reducing the threshold for a positive result for marijuana, meaning that student athletes who smoke pot are more likely to be caught. At the same time, however, it is recommending reducing the penalty for those testing positive for marijuana.

NCAA game, North Carolina v. Michigan State, 2005 (courtesy Haaron755 on
The testing threshold will drop from 15 nanograms per milliliter of blood to five nanograms in order to "more accurately identify usage among student athletes," the group's Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport announced last Friday.

The lower marijuana threshold will go into effect on August 1 and would require a season-long suspension from athletic activities, the same penalty for those athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs. The CSMAS is recommending that the penalty for positive marijuana tests be lowered to a half-season suspension because it doesn't consider the herb to be a performance-enhancing drug, but that change won't come into effect until August 2014.

That means the NCAA could see a spike in one-year suspensions for pot as the new, tighter threshold goes into effect, but the move to reduce penalties lags behind.

CSMAS explained that marijuana had not been part of athletic drug testing until after some Olympic snow boarders tested positive for it after the 1998 games and embarrassed Olympic officials:

"At that time, there was no penalty for a positive marijuana test, but many in the Olympic family were embarrassed about the test results. This led to placing marijuana on the in-competition list of banned drugs," the panel said on its web site. "Many scientists and clinicians have debated whether marijuana is truly performance enhancing. Indeed, John Fahey, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, recently acknowledged that many scientists believe that the current marijuana criteria need to be amended, and he further stated that this matter will be considered in a review process."

If marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug, why should athletes be penalized for using it? CSMAS is glad you asked:

"The World Anti-Doping Agency lists three reasons for drug testing in sport: (1) to prevent cheating through the use of performance-enhancing substances and methods; (2) to deter athletes from ingesting substances that may harm the athlete’s health; and (3) to deter athletes from ingesting substances or engaging in doping methods that are contrary to the spirit of sport," the group explained. "Whereas the CSMAS rightly focused on the fact that marijuana and other street drugs are not performance enhancing, the committee also recognizes that the universe of sport is special, and the student-athlete is obliged to embrace the spirit of sport. We do not believe that student-athletes should be ingesting marijuana and other street drugs, and we believe that a combination of penalties coupled with behavioral intervention is the most balanced approach to this issue."

And does this mean an athlete who smoked a joint a month before the big bowl game could test positive for marijuana and face penalties from the NCAA?

"Yes," said CSMAS.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Did You Know? "Doping Cases at the Olympics, 1968-2010," on

Did you know there were 127 doping cases reported at the Olympics between 1968 and 2010? Read the details in "Doping Cases at the Olympics, 1968-2010," on the web site, part of the family. Also on "Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should performance enhancing drugs (such as steroids) be accepted in sports?", and other resources.

This is the third in a six-part series of teasers being published in Drug War Chronicle. Keep tuning in to the Chronicle for more important facts from the next several weeks, or sign up for's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's Chronicle piece here. is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Expulsion of Olympic Athlete for Marijuana Raises Questions

An American Olympic judo contender, Nick Delpopolo, was expelled from the London 2012 Olympic Games Monday after he tested positive for marijuana, and that has some experts raising questions about whether it makes sense to include marijuana on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances.

Judo match, 2012 Olympics, London (Martin Duggan via Flickr and Wikimedia)
Delpopolo said he had inadvertently consumed marijuana in a food item he did not know contained it.

Concerns about athletes "cheating" by using performance enhancing drugs is one thing, but the use of recreational drugs that do not enhance -- and could well detract from -- competitive performance is another. Recreational drugs are banned not because they might provide an athlete with an unfair advantage, but because their use by athletes can cause public relations problems for organized sports, which like to tout athletes as role models for youth.

But some experts told Reuters Monday that sports' PR concerns were no reason to ban athletes for using marijuana. They also suggested the time, expense, and effort of drug testing athletes might be better spent going after real cheats who do blood doping with EPO or use anabolic steroids to increase muscle growth and testosterone levels.

"There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA," said David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing."

But marijuana is banned by WADA, and that means athletes caught using it during a competition face a two-year ban. Still, unlike performance enhancing drugs, WADA does not punish athletes who test positive for pot outside of competitions. That stance has led some scientists to suggest that WADA's reason for banning marijuana is political, not scientific.

"The problem is the elite athletes should be seen as role models for young kids, and so they ban cannabis because they don't want to have the image of gold medalists smoking joints," said one British-based sports scientist who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

[Ed: If officials don't link images of athletes smoking marijuana, they might have a poor strategy -- no one knew Delpolo used it, before he was sanctioned, but now everyone does.]

"It's hard to imagine how smoking a joint or eating marijuana brownies is going to help somebody in judo," said Michael Joyner, a member of the Physiological Society and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in the United States. "My advice to WADA is that they should focus on drugs that are clearly performance enhancing in the sports where they are clearly performance enhancing."

According to WADA, substance merit inclusion on its banned substances list if they meet two of these three criteria: they are proven to be performance enhancing, they are dangerous to the health of athletes, or they are contrary to the spirit of sport. There is little or no evidence that marijuana can enhance sporting performance, while there is evidence it could have a negative impact. It can slow reaction times, cause coordination problems, and reduce hand-eye coordination, none of which is going to increase an athlete's chances of victory.

While marijuana is not harm free, there is little evidence it is dangerous to the health of athletes. Nor is it clear why marijuana use would be "contrary to the spirit of sport."

WADA isn't keen to clarify. It refused to comment Monday on a Reuters query about why marijuana is banned.

United Kingdom

Did You Know? Historical Timeline of Drugs and Sports

Did you know that historical references to drug use in sports goes back to the 8th century BC? Read about the practices and issues from ancient times through the present, in Historical Timeline -- History of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports, on, part of the family.

Follow Drug War Chronicle for more important facts from over the next few weeks, or sign up for's email list or RSS feed. Click here for last week's Chronicle Did You Know segment. is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Did You Know? "History of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports," on

The history drugs in sports goes back at least to the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose athletes made use of wine, hallucinogens, stimulants and other substances in attempts to enhance their performance. To learn more, visit History of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports, on the web site, part of the family.

This is the final installment in a six-week Drug War Chronicle series highlighting interesting and important pages from Click here to read last week's blurb, or sign up for's email list or RSS feed. is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

The Real Reason Football Players Aren't Supposed to Use Marijuana

This Sports Illustrated piece on the growing prevalence of marijuana use among NFL prospects is such a carnival of mind-bending idiocy that I wonder if I'll ever enjoy the sport quite as much after having read it. The whole thing is just a series of anonymous quotes from NFL coaches and executives acting like marijuana is some sort of mysterious plague gripping professional sports. Yet for all the deep concern about it, you won't find any attempt at explaining why anyone even gives a sh*t about this to begin with.

So what if an athlete has a secret history of getting super baked. Does he have a secret history of sucking at football? That would be worth looking into. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the real story behind all this nonsense is actually rather simple and far too embarrassing to acknowledge.

I seriously doubt any of this has anything to do with concerns about the impact of marijuana use on an athlete's performance. The sport of football has a rich history of dominant players known for indulging in cannabis and it would be laugh-out-loud moronic to suggest that the stuff was gonna screw up anybody's stats. Nobody even bothers to argue that, because it's dumb and everyone knows it's dumb.

The real issue is that you have to worry about these guys failing drug tests or getting arrested and then having to deal with seismic media attention and pissed off corporate sponsors. It's all about money, but you can't say that without revealing the mindlessness of marijuana policy in general, which the NFL isn't about to weigh into. Instead, we're stuck with marijuana-in-sports coverage that remains ubiquitous, yet utterly devoid of substance.

Meanwhile, as SAFER points out, the NFL is married to the alcohol industry and couldn't possibly do more to shove beer in everyone's face at every conceivable opportunity. It is unquestionably the best example that exists of an organization which simultaneously glorifies and promotes alcohol, while treating marijuana use as an intolerable vice.

I dare anyone to consume on a frequent basis all the nutritious food and beverages the NFL wishes to sell to you, and once you're sufficiently fat and drunk, you can then make it your business to lecture Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin about whether treating his migraine headaches with marijuana is a responsible choice.

Feature: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's... Methadone Man? Harm Reduction at the Vancouver Olympics

The Vancouver Olympic Games are getting underway today, and along with thousands of athletes and an estimated half a million visitors from around the world, the harm reduction community will also be there. A consortium of local, national, and international harm reduction and advocacy groups have crafted a campaign called SafeGames 2010 to bring harm reduction theory and practice to the forefront during the Olympic games.
In addition to bringing harm reduction messages to the Olympic masses, the campaign may help serve as a corrective to the drop-in international media, who come to Vancouver for the Olympics, then look around for local stories to cover, and then discover the city's Downtown Eastside with shock and dismay. The Downtown Eastside is home to one of the largest and densest concentrations of hard drug users in the hemisphere and has the appearance of a Skid Row. But it is also home to the innovative harm reduction and other drug policies that have put Vancouver on the cutting edge of drug reform.

Led by Vancouver's Keeping the Door Open Society, SafeGames 2010 will provide an array of resources, including tips on safe sex and reducing the harm associated with drug and alcohol consumption, in a bid to keep the Olympic community safe and protected. The campaign has the added benefit of highlighted Vancouver's progressive stance on drug policy and harm reduction.

"Vancouver is a community that respects its citizens for who they are," said Gillian Maxwell, head of Keeping the Door Open and project director for the SafeGames 2010 project. "Over the last decade, Vancouver has paved the way for some of its most marginalized community members, including people who use drugs, are in the sex trade, are living with HIV/AIDS, and those with mental health issues and other concerns, to be treated with respect and dignity."

The campaign kicked off Wednesday with a press conference featuring Maxwell, several Vancouver and British Columbia officials, and a trio of caped and costumed superheroes: Methadone Man, Buprenorphine Babe, and Captain Condom. The superheroes will be among the 200 volunteers handing out 20,000 "safe kits" containing condoms, lube, hand heaters, glow sticks, and DVDs, as well as information about the sex trade in the city and referrals to local service providers to people attending Olympic events and visiting the city's sure-to-be bustling night life districts.

The campaign's web site also provides a range of local resources and contacts to connect visitors with harm reduction services available in the area, such as the city's InSite safe injection site, the only one in North America. The web site also provides informational videos and handouts, as well as information on various SafeGames members.

Vancouver Police Inspector Scott Thompson told the press conference that while Vancouver police don't support drug use, they do support SafeGames 2010. "Unfortunately, people are going to engage in activities like this. And the goal would be that when they do that, we want them to be safe when they do it."

This isn't the first time harm reductionists have worked the Olympics. During the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, harm reductionists led by SafeGames campaign founder Luciano Colonna undertook a similar program there. But the campaign is only getting better, said Colonna.

"Our partners -- from HIM, which works to strengthen the health of gay men, to the SafeVibe campaign of Women Against Violence Against Women, to InSite, have been working overtime to respond to the harm reduction needs of those coming here for the games," he said.

"This is harm reduction for the mainstream," said Maxwell. "We will be outreach workers, going out in teams to bar and party areas and handing out the safe kits. There are a whole range of things that people do that can be risky, and we say do it safely. What I like most about the campaign is that we are explaining harm reduction in many different ways, and you can't really argue with any of them. We are going to be getting out some very good public health messages," Maxwell said.

SafeGames isn't the only one doing some harm reduction work for the Vancouver Olympics. The city of Vancouver has announced it will hand out 100,000 condoms on its own.

For Maxwell, SafeGames is not just about harm reduction at the Games. It's also about educating people about the Downtown Eastside and what goes on there. "Every city has that sort of thing," she said, "but ours is very open and big, with thousands of people. It could be hard to take if you're from a different culture, but we're thinking it's a great opportunity to educate people. We're even talking about doing some tours of the Downtown Eastside."

As the countdown to the Olympics draws to end, Maxwell could feel the excitement building. "A lot of people were against spending the money it costs to have the Olympics here, and I'm not really into it myself, but there is a real buzz on downtown now," she said. "There are all these young athletes, and this is their dream, and here they are. You can't help but notice the vibe."

And maybe, thanks to SafeGames 2010, some of those athletes and the crowds who come to cheer them on won't be able to help but notice the harm reduction messages and messengers circulating among them.

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