Positive marijuana drug tests in MMA have made headlines again this week with both Jessica Eye and Yancy Medeiros finding themselves on the wrong side of the rules. In addition to facing various penalties they both had their respective victories overturned to a ‘no decision‘ which is a power wielded by most athletic commissions following a failed drug test.
There is little dispute that where an athletic commission prohibits a licence holder from using marijuana the guilty athlete can be exposed to discipline and financial penalties. Changing the result of a bout from a win to a ‘no decision‘, however, arguably goes too far. Such a decision also is vulnerable to judicial review unless a good reason can be provided for such use of discretion.
In the case of Yancy Medeiros’ failed drug test, the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling “may change the result of that contest or exhibition to a no decision.” under section 43(f) of the Kentucky Administrative Regulations. Similar language exists in Texas where Jessica Eye failed her drug test with Rule 61.30(n) allowing the bout result to be changed “as the executive director may direct.“.
There is no doubt commissions can change the win to a no-decision however the key word is “may“. If a government body has discretion to act the law does not allow decisions to be made in an unfettered manner. Discretion needs to be used taking reasonable factors into account. Failing to do so can amount to unlawful fettering of discretion and courts can overhaul such decisions.
Prohibited substances in combat sports can fall into two broad categories; those with and those without performance enhancing qualities. If a failed drug test relates to a substance without performance enhancing qualities then there is no good reason for changing a bout result. Administrative penalties can serve as an adequate punishment and deterrent for those who break the rules.
In the case of marijuana the The Association of Boxing Commissions Medical Committee has issued a consensus statement that “there are no good data at present to suggest that marijuana acts directly as a performance-enhancing drug” . Athletic Commissions ought to take this medical evidence into account when using their discretionary powers following a failed drug test. Absent proof that a failed drug test had a performance enhancing quality to it bout decisions should be left intact and commissions should limit punishment to fines or licence suspensions. Commissions who ignore such evidence do a disservice to the integrity of bout results and further are vulnerable to having their decisions overturned through judicial review.