Why Are We Still Testing For Weed In MMA?

Another fighter has tested positive for marijuana metabolites, and has been suspended six months by USADA for the infraction. This time it’s Cynthia Calvillo, the UFC women’s strawweight fighter who tested positive for THC in an in-competition drug test administered by USADA for her bout at UFC 219. Calvillo — who was above USADA’s decision limit of 180 ng/mL — lost a unanimous decision to Carla Esparza that night, and now it appears she will be losing up to six months of her fighting career for smoking weed, though it could be reduced to a three-month sanction if she passed a USADA-approved drug awareness program. However, the Nevada State Athletic Commission may impose additional penalties against Calvillo for the infraction, so she may not be out of the woods just yet. And all for smoking some weed.

My question is why? Why are we still testing for weed in MMA? It’s 2018, and marijuana has become widely accepted across the globe. There are numerous states in the United States that have legalized marijuana, and Canada, where I live, will soon introduce a bill legalizing weed here as well. It really makes no sense that fighters are losing prime years of their career for smoking pot at some point during their camp, when it has never been proven to be a performance-enhancing drug. And it’s not like Calvillo smoked up the night of her fight with Esparza. It’s much more likely she smoked during her camp and the metabolites sat inside her long enough to be detected by USADA’s drug tests. It just doesn’t seem right that she would be punished for that, when it’s not like weed enhanced her performance at all.

It’s stupid that smoking marijuana costs fighters time and money. Even though the threshold of metabolites has risen in recent years, you still see situations like this with Calvillo, where she’s going to lose months of her career when she could be in the Octagon fighting and earning income. It’s not like this is anything new; fighters have smoked marijuana and been suspended for doing so for a long time, though it was far worse a few years ago when the thresholds were much lower.

Just look at Nick Diaz, who has been caught and suspended for marijuana three times in his career. Diaz is one of the most exciting fighters in the world, but ever since testing positive for marijuana against Anderson Silva in 2015 he hasn’t stepped into the cage since. Diaz was well above Nevada’s limit of 150 ng/mL. Diaz knows that based on how much he smokes during his camps there’s a good chance he would fail for metabolites again, even if he wasn’t actually stoned during the fight, and based on the hefty, six-figure fines he’s paid in the past for his infractions, it’s just not worth it for him to take the risk of testing positive and fighting again, only to lose more time and money.

Remember the case of Pat Healy. The journeyman had the best performance of his career at UFC 159 in 2013, submitting Jim Miller and winning $100,000 in bonuses for “Fight of the Night” and “Submission of the Night.” But he tested positive for marijuana metabolites and had his money taken away from him as well as his win. Keep in mind Healy failed by exceeding the old threshold of 50 ng/mL. He went on to lose four-straight fights in the UFC, and has since retired from fighting. Even all these years later, I’m not convinced Healy smoking pot during his training camp enhanced his performance, and it’s unfortunate his career took such a dive-bomb after failing his drug test. Plus, it cost a guy who fought for pennies earlier in his career the biggest paycheck of his life. Yes, he should have known better, but it still seems entirely unfair.

The Healy case was an example for why the threshold for marijuana metabolites was ultimately raised, but even now we are still seeing fighters test positive for trace amounts because the thresholds change depending on where the fight takes place. Depending on the commission, they may not use USADA’s limits. Take for example the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations. Last year at UFC Fight Night 104, three fighters tested positive for trace amounts of weed in their systems: Curtis Blaydes, Niko Price, and Abel Trujillo. All were above Texas’ limit of 150 ng/mL. Both Blaydes and Price had their wins over turned to No Contests, were fined, and were suspended for three months. But none of the fighters faced USADA sanctions because the amounts were so low that even USADA didn’t care. The fact the commissions and USADA can’t even agree on the threshold is a major concern to fighters.

The counter argument to feeling bad for the fighters that have been hurt by these old-fashioned marijuana rules is that USADA has laid out the rules regarding banned substances pretty clearly and that the fighters should know better. But it’s not like these fighters are even getting a benefit from marijuana. It’s not like this is a pizza-eating contest, after all. It’s a fight, and I’ll never be convinced that smoking pot at some point during a training camp and then testing positive for a trace amount affected the outcome of a fight at all. It’s 2018, and these commissions and USADA need to wake up. I’m not condoning a fighter smoking up right before the fight and being stoned in the cage, but I’ll never, ever agree with fighters testing positive for trace amounts from smoking up during their camp and having their career and their earnings affected over it.

Should we still be testing for weed in MMA? Let us know in the comments below.

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