How Young People Feel About Sha’Carri Richardson’s Olympic Ban​​​​​​

Jul 14 2021

The Olympics’ ban of athletes who test positive for marijuana use is under fire—and we asked young consumers how they feel about it…

Sha’Carri Richardson being barred from competing at the Tokyo Olympic’s after testing positive for marijuana has become one of the biggest stories around the games—and that’s during a pandemic. Richardson initially garnered a “legion of fans” after sprinting herself into first place at the 100-meter competition in Oregon—but her win was considered invalid after the drug test results, and she was suspended for a month. Though that suspension technically allowed her to participate in the Olympics relay event, when the USA Track and Field released the list for its relay team, she was not included. The story has sparked serious controversy and a fair amount of backlash, with many other athletes, celebrities, and politicians questioning the rule. 

So just how do young people feel about Richardson’s ban? Today we used our on-demand survey platform PULSE to ask about Sha’Carri, marijuana use in sports, and the Olympics. When it comes to the ban of Sha’Carri Richardson, their feelings are clear:

Sixty-three of 16-34-year-olds say that Richardson should not have been banned for testing positive for marijuana compared to 25% who say she should have been banned. It’s not just celebrities and politicians who have pushed back publicly on Richardson’s ban. A Let Sha’Carri Run! petition on MoveOn is pushing to “reinstate Richardson” and objecting due to an “outdated and arbitrarily enforced rule around marijuana” has nearly reached its goal of 600K signatures. During an interview with TODAY that received 1.3 million views on Twitter alone, Richardson told news anchor Savannah Guthrie that she used marijuana to cope with her mother’s recent death, and told the audience: “Don’t judge me, because I am human…I just happen to run a little faster.” And YPulse data indicates that Gen Z and Millennials think stress is a valid reason for using marijuana: Our Cannabis Infusion trend data found that 55% of 18-36-year-old marijuana users use the drug because it relieves stress, while 55% think using marijuana is helpful for people with high stress jobs. YPulse also found that in the last year, marijuana use has increased among 21-39-year-olds in response to election-induced and COVID-induced anxiety, which could be further contributing to their support and feelings for Richardson’s ban. 

With 12% of young people saying they aren’t familiar with the Sha’Carri Richardson, we also asked how they feel about athletes being banned for marijuana use overall:

An impressive 72% of 16-34-year-olds responded that they don’t think athletes should be barred for that reason compared to 28% who say they should be. YPulse’s Cannabis Infusion trend report found that 48% of young people think marijuana be legalized for medicinal and recreational use, and in recent years, young consumers—particularly Millennials—have been fueling the cannabis economy. These generations have in many ways been ahead of the culture curve when it comes to the mainstreaming of marijuana, so it only makes sense that most wouldn’t agree that Olympic athletes should be banned for using it.

According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which helps to set the rules for the World Anti-Doping Agency, “For something to be added to the WADA Prohibited List, it must meet two of the three inclusion criteria:  a) it poses a health risk to athletes b) it has the potential to enhance performance and c) it violates the spirit of sport.” So we also asked young people if they think marijuana fits any of these qualifications:

Only 6% of 16-34-year-old respondents say marijuana enhances performance, while only 12% say it causes harm to the athlete, and 12% feel it violates the spirit of the sport. Combined, this is nearly equal to the number who feel that athletes should be banned for using marijuana. While 29% say the drug aids in recovery, young consumers are most likely to feel that marijuana does none of these. Ultimately, with nearly three fourths believing that marijuana does not violate fit any of the reasons that a drug would be banned, the majority also feel that the Olympics should change their rules:


Seventy-five percent of 16-34-year-olds say the Olympics should change their rules around marijuana as a banned drug compared to 25% who say they shouldn’t. While half of the young consumers we surveyed today said that they plan to watch the Olympics, 28% overall said that they are less interested in watching because of Sha’Carri Richardson’s ban. With young audiences already difficult to attract as Olympic viewers, the events might need to rethink their stance in the future.

YPulse Business users can access the full Cannabis Infusion trend report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.

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