There’s been widespread condemnation over the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) recent decision to suspend U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson from at least some Olympic competition over a failed marijuana test. But according to a new poll, women are notably more likely to oppose the suspension than men are.

YouGov surveyed nearly 30,000 Americans about the decision and, somewhat surprisingly, found that a plurality (43 percent) support the punishment, while 41 percent oppose it. But a gender breakdown of respondents revealed an interesting divide.

More women oppose the suspension of Richardson (44 percent) than support it (39 percent). Men, on the other hand, are more supportive of the penalty (48 percent) than they are against it (38 percent).

The divide is all the more curious considering that past polls have found that women are generally less inclined to embrace marijuana legalization than men are. One might assume that support for cannabis reform in general would translate into opposition to Richardson’s marijuana-related suspension, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance.

The YouGov poll doesn’t attempt to solve that quandary, but it raises questions about how public opinion shifts in the intersection of sports, drug policy and gender.

Meanwhile, there’s also a significant gap on the issue when it comes to party affiliation and age—though these data are more in line with prior polling on support for legalization.

Fifty-three percent of those who identify as Democrats oppose the punishment, while 37 percent support it. In contrast, 62 percent of Republicans agreed with the suspension and 26 percent opposed it.

Young people aged 18-24 were relatively divided on the issue with, 27 percent saying they oppose the sanction and 22 supporting it. As could be expected, those in the oldest category of 55+ were most in favor of the penalty.

While there hasn’t been a lot of public polling on the specific changes, advocates have broadly embraced internal marijuana policy reforms at other major professional athletic organizations, arguing that they are long overdue especially given the ever-expanding legalization movement.

NFL’s drug testing policy changed demonstrably last year as part of a collective bargaining agreement, for example. Under the policy, NFL players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana.

In a similar vein, the MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Baseball players can consume marijuana without risk of discipline, but officials clarified last year that they can’t work while under the influence and can’t enter into sponsorship contracts with cannabis businesses, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, a temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana amid the coronavirus pandemic may soon become permanent, the league’s top official said in December. Rather than mandate blanket tests, Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”

When it comes to Richardson’s suspension, the penalty has been widely slammed on social media.

While President Joe Biden faced criticism after saying on Saturday that “the rules are the rules,” fewer paid attention to the fact that he also suggested that there’s an open question about whether “they should remain the rules.” That’s notable for a president who has maintained an opposition to adult-use legalization.

That came after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress slammed Richardson’s punishment on Friday, with leaders of a key House subcommittee sending a scathing letter to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), urging the bodies to ”strike a blow for civil liberties and civil rights by reversing this course you are on.”

“The divergent treatment of recreational alcohol and marijuana use reflects obsolete stereotypes about cannabis products and a profound misunderstanding of the relative risks of both substances,” they said, noting that major sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB and NBA are making moves to scale back or eliminate cannabis punishments for players.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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