The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently changed their rules to allow up to 150 nanograms per millimeter of cannabis in an athlete’s blood. The new threshold is meant to allow athletes to use marijuana medicinally, as well as recreationally, so long as they don’t do so on the days that they compete. The change is being praised by proponents of marijuana who tout the drug as being beneficial to the health of Olympic athletes. Advocates are hoping to encourage other athletic organizations to follow WADA’s lead. These campaigns are aimed at organizations like the NFL, remains committed to cracking down on the use of cannabis among its athletes. Increasingly, strict rules against athletes using marijuana are being criticised.
It is hard to forget the case of Ross Rebagliati, the Canadian Olympian who lost his gold medal when trace amounts of marijuana were found in his blood stream. The decision was later reversed, but the event sheds light on just how stigmatized marijuana was in 1998. This was the debut for snowboarding, which was brought into the Olympics to attract a younger audience. It is not surprising, then, that when marijuana was found in Rebagliati’s blood, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was concerned about optics. When asked if the drug could enhance an athlete’s performance, then director general of the IOC Francois Carrard said that “there is quite a discussion about marijuana. I am told in some situations it could be performance enhancing. It could affect the behavior of some athletes.” In other words, the effects that marijuana could have on the body were unknown, and the fear was associated with a lifestyle.
It probably didn’t help that Rebagliati was a snowboarder, which is essentially the surfer dude of the snow. Things were different when, a little over a decade later, Michael Phelps was photographed taking hits from a bong. Although he apologized and demonstrated remorse, Phelps remained a very well respected – and well sponsored – Olympic athlete. Phelps went on to collect the most Olympic medals in history, at 28 medals, just ahead of Paralympian Teresa Perales’ 26. Phelps’ status and athleticism stands against many fears and stereotypes about the use of cannabis. Today, we know that Olympic athletes can also recreationally use marijuana – the taboo has been lifted.
The legalization of marijuana use across many progressive states, both the cannabis industry and the technology industry stand to benefit: the growth of the cannabis industry has created a niche opportunity for the technology industry by creating job opportunities, and the cannabis industry benefits from increased interest and investment by the technology industry. With everyone jumping on board, the market is expected to grow significantly. Colorado alone sold more than $996 million worth of marijuana in 2015. The ArcView predicts that by 2020, nationwide cannabis sales will grow to $22.8 billion, that’s on par with the American spirits industry. This has drawn the attention of investors, especially because this is an industry that essentially grew out of nothing.
Within the industry we see two factions emerging. The first are the companies that grow and produce marijuana, and the second is the emerging ‘marijuana tech’ industry. According to Eddie Miller, the CEO of InvestInCannabis, this opens up a variety of investment opportunities, including greenhouse technology, genetics, laboratory testing, derivatives, e-commerce, app development, and legal expertise. Increasingly, technology is being used to respond to these new industrial demands. When it comes to app development, we see weed-specific social networks like MassRoots being used to share knowledge, we see delivery apps like Eaze or GreenRush, and even a smartphone-controlled home-grown system. Other companies like HybridTech are pushing their technological design and consulting operations into the emerging cannabis market. Technology is allowing us to ensure that the cannabis is safe, not only by tracking and testing the product for pesticides, but also by bringing scientists and experts into the production process, growing heartier plants, and altering the conditions to prevent mold and decay.
Technology has the power to innovate the cannabis industry – even if it remains a somewhat precarious pursuit. Many investors are concerned about legal uncertainties and regulations. However, with progressive views that normalize marijuana use, and continued investment by big tech, it seems inevitable that the industry will only grow.