A Sensible Solution to the Marijuana Issue in Combat Sports

Lost in the discussions of the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s draconian punishment of Nick Diaz and the far from ideal circumstances of his hearing is the fatal flaw in modern day athletic commission testing for marijuana.

Marijuana is, by WADA and by most athletic commission standards, only banned in competition (as opposed to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs which are banned at all times.).

The reason for this is simple.  Marijuana, alcohol and other so called ‘drugs of abuse’ are not performance enhancing.  In fact, WADA does not even ban alcohol in competition for most sports with the exception of those where harm is perceived to be possible such as air sports, motor sports and archery.  Intoxicating substances are only banned in competition in the combat sports world for the safety of the fighter consuming them.  No regulator will allow a fighting athlete to compete while impaired and little argument can be made against this objective.

To this end commissions largely rely on metabolite screening in urine tests which do nothing to determine if an athlete is impaired while competing.  These tests only show that marijuana was consumed some time in the past.  Various jurisdictions set artificial thresholds which, if exceeded, are deemed to be a violation of the in competition ban but these again do not measure sobriety

A far more sensible approach would be to rely on the integrity of pre bout medical screenings.  Physicians are present at regulated events.  It would take little time and effort for a once over to ensure no competitor is about to fight while showing signs of impairment.  If a fighter is not objectively impaired in any way and satisfies physicians present then the regulator’s legitimate safety concerns are meaningfully met.  Allowing a bout to take place, on the other hand, and finding traces of substances that could have been consumed days or weeks prior, misses this objective and is a practice which regulators should seriously consider re-evaluating.

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