News & Opinion

Tour’s outdated drug policy nabs Garrigus

Robert Garrigus
Robert Garrigus, back on the PGA Tour after a 3-month suspension for violating the Anti-Doping Program, says that the Tour’s marijuana ban is outdated.

Should Robert Garrigus have been suspended for three months by the PGA Tour?

Under the strict reading of the Tour’s Anti-Doping Program, undoubtedly yes. In a statement on Friday, the Tour disclosed that Garrigus violated the anti-doping policy by using a drug of abuse, without disclosing which drug.

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Robert Garrigus

Later that day, Garrigus confirmed on Twitter that his use of marijuana was the reason for his violation.

So, to answer the original question, if Garrigus tested positive for marijuana use, then he should be suspended. That is the rule.

But should marijuana be a restricted substance under the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program?

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which formed in 1999, also has included marijuana on its prohibited list. Four years ago, as part of WADA’s updated list, the threshold for a positive test for marijuana changed from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. That means that athletes who use marijuana weeks or months before an event would be far less likely to test positive than those who would use the drug in the hours or days before competition.

“We wanted to focus on the athletes that abuse the substance in competition,” Julie Masse, WADA's director of communications, said from her office in Montreal in 2015. “This should exclude cases where marijuana is not used in competition.”

Marijuana and cannabis have been deemed prohibited substances by WADA since the agency's original list, in 2003. According to Richard Pound, an attorney who was WADA's initial chief and still serves on the Foundation Board, marijuana historically has been regarded as an entry-level drug and not considered to be performance-enhancing. American sports officials lobbied hard for the drug's ban in athletics.

“From a sports perspective, I was rather ambivalent [toward marijuana],” Pound said at the time of the agreed-upon change. “As we morphed into WADA, the USA was very keen to have it included.”

Under the former threshold, Pound said that an athlete who used marijuana one month before competition was likely to be detected, as was someone exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke two weeks before an event.

“The 150-threshold number seemed to satisfy the scientific community,” Pound said.

Under the Tour's Anti-Doping Program, enacted in 2008, cannabinoids – which include marijuana – are considered to be recreational drugs and not performance-enhancing. The PGA Tour had been unwilling to disclose its threshold for a positive test for marijuana use but did confirm for this report that the Tour is using WADA’s threshold of 150 ng/ml. A violation is considered as recreational, not performance-enhancing.

Four years ago, when WADA’s changes were taking effect, then-Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had his feet firmly in the camp of anti-marijuana use, seemingly unconcerned with WADA’s changing viewpoint.

“It does affect the image of the sport,” Finchem said of marijuana use. “It's not just illegal; it's also not in the interest of the PGA Tour. So, I don't see us changing our position on that.”

A lot has changed since Finchem’s comments in 2015. Notably, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Twenty-three other states have passed laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Last year, Canada legalized marijuana in all uses.

According to a Pew Research Center poll in October, 62 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

So, the facts are that the international anti-doping agency finds marijuana to be an issue only when it is used on the day of competition. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use in some way, and more than 3 in 5 Americans think marijuana should be legalized.

Yet, Robert Garrigus is taking a three-month vacation for having used marijuana. Garrigus, 41, a one-time winner on Tour who is in his 14th season, has made two cuts in seven starts this season. He has totaled nearly $14.7 million in career earnings.

When Finchem was commissioner, the use of marijuana may have held a stigma for professional golfers and been a potential black mark on the Tour’s reputation, which is paramount for Tour officials. But times and attitudes have changed. The Tour is moving in the right direction by testing at the less-restrictive WADA thresholds but should look at eliminating testing for marijuana altogether.

“It would be nice if we could just say we don't need to regulate anything because our players will never do anything that compromises the image of the sport,” Finchem said in March 2015. “In that particular case with gambling, liquor and recreational drugs, it does.”

Gambling also has evolved with the Tour, which has thrown its support behind gaming initiatives. Just last month, players were permitted to have sponsor logos promoting gaming on their bags and clothing.

Jay Monahan, who replaced the retired Finchem as commissioner in 2017, now needs to look at marijuana as he has done with gambling and make the adjustments that bring the Tour in step with society.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli