Leaders of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have written to members of congress critical of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s Olympic ban for cannabis use explaining that, while they would like more flexibility, they cannot unilaterally change the rules.

The letter, co-signed by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, referenced a rule in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) which means competitors are not penalised for using cannabis if it is not intended to enhance performance.

Sha’Carri Richardson

However, while USADA oversees UFC’s anti-doping program, the sport is not signed up to the international anti-doping code, whereas USADA, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and all organisations that oversee Olympic athletes are.

“Most governments in the world have been very reluctant to take marijuana off the prohibited list for public health reasons,” USADA said.

“It is worth noting that when marijuana was included in the first prohibited list in 2004, one of the strongest advocates for inclusion… was the US government.”

The letter came after congressional Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin called the cannabis ban “a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties”.

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also called on sporting bodies and anti-doping authorities to reconsider the rules.

It has since been reported that the White House is seeking a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency to discuss easing restrictions.