Not surprisingly the Olympics has had an interesting and evolving relationship with marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned the use of marijuana in 1999 and multiple Olympians were stripped of their medals and other penalties for testing positive for marijuana in drug tests. American judoka Nicholas Delpopolo was ejected from Olympic competition in 2012 after testing positive and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, was suspended from swimming competitions for six months for marijuana use.
But the world is changing, which is forcing the IOC to rethink some of its positions.
WADA recently amended its rules on cannabis, raising the threshold for a positive test from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. In 1998 at the Nagano Games, Rebagliati recorded a level of 17.8 ng/ml, and argued the test resulted from second-hand smoke, which he still says. Ben Nichols, a spokesperson for WADA, said the raising of the threshold is meant to catch only athletes who smoke during the period of a competition. The drug isn't prohibited out of competition.
"Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption," Nichols said. "The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition."
Raising the threshold level to 150 nanograms per milliliter means that an athlete would have to be a "pretty dedicated cannabis consumer" to test positive, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
New sports such as the addition of skateboarding could make it even harder to keep Olympics and pot separate. Some have suggested that IOC drug testing for marijuana could steer many of the world's top skateboarders away from the Games.
An even bigger intersection between Olympics and cannabis will happen if: a) Los Angeles is awarded the 2024 Olympics; and b) California passes AUMA in 2016 (adult use legalization). This would mean that athletes and visitors coming to the Olympics would be able to legally purchase and consume marijuana (a first for an Olympics games location). By then marijuana could be a $10b business or larger just in the state and the acceptance of pot for both medical and recreational uses will have grown even stronger. It's also hard to imagine that like other businesses savvy cannabis brands won't try and leverage the marketing opportunities presented by the Games. Will this be an opportunity for a Ryan Lochte sponsorship?