(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
A meeting of state athletic commissions next month could determine whether combat sports regulators adopt the World Anti- Doping Agency’s more relaxed rules regarding testing for marijuana. That, in turn, could be good news for some MMA fighters.
The Association of Boxing Commissions’ medical committee will then make a recommendation on whether to follow WADA’s marijuana threshold, which was raised from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ mL in an athlete’s urine.
Several commissioners have indicated their support for the change, which could reduce the number of fighters who are suspended and fined for pot. At least seven UFC fighters have tested positive for marijuana since 2012. The conference takes place in late July in San Antonio.
“I leave medical decisions to medical personnel,” Nick Lembo, chairman of the ABC’s MMA rules committee and also a chief regulator in New Jersey’s athletic commission, told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “But my personal feeling is that I would much rather focus on obvious performance-enhancing drug use like steroids and blood doping.
“If I was a trainer, I would much rather have my fighter fighting someone who took marijuana than someone who’s blood doping.”
The ABC’s medical committee, represented by more than 50 doctors around the country, met Wednesday to discuss WADA’s change. The UFC recently adopted WADA’s threshold for international events it self-regulates. The fight promotion’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Marc Ratner, is the former head of the Nevada commission and an advocate of lesser penalties for marijuana infractions.
The committee also discussed whether therapeutic-use exemptions should be given to medical cannabis users. In 2012, now-retired UFC welterweight Nick Diaz unsuccessfully challenged a postfight suspension issued by Nevada on the basis that he used the drug outside of competition and with a doctor’s approval.
Marijuana is a polarizing issue in the sport, with many fighters saying the drug is widely used.
UFC fighter Pat Healy tested positive for marijuana at UFC 159 in April, and it cost him $130,000 in bonuses. He said he last used the drug a month before his fight.
Ohio commissioner Bernie Profato is a former police officer who remembers a day on the job in which a mother tested positive for pot after a car crash that killed her 7-year-old child. He said he always would be opposed to the drug but would enforce whatever regulations were in place.
It might not take long for regulatory change. But the ABC’s president, Tim Lueckenhoff, sees red tape ahead despite his belief that athletic commissions will fall in step with WADA.
“What it really comes down to is what the regulations in the various states say,” said Lueckenhoff, who also heads Missouri’s commission. “If it says they go with the WADA guidelines, then it’s fine. If they have an individual rule that says what the threshold is, then all those commissions have to go through a rule-making process to change that, which unfortunately in state government takes time.”
(Pictured: Pat Healy)