Justice

A UFC Fighter Was Just Suspended on Dubious Marijuana Charges

September 15th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

A five-year suspension for an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter from California is raising eyebrows. The reason for the suspension? Marijuana use. And the decision is calling attention to the sport's drug policies and the veracity of the drug tests they use, ESPN reported.

On Monday, the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted unanimously to suspend 32-year-old welterweight Nick Diaz, after the fighter tested positive for marijuana metabolites during a fight last January. Diaz was also fined $165,000. Nick Diaz is not taking the suspension lightly; he called out the hypocrisy of suspension due to marijuana versus steroid use.

The commission reportedly sought a lifetime ban, though one commissioner, Skip Avansino, was quoted in news reports as saying that the five-year suspension was essentially a lifetime ban. Diaz had two previous marijuana-related infractions.

 

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An attorney for Diaz, Lucas Middlebrook, said the suspension would be appealed. "I think it was a completely arbitrary and capricious decision," Middlebrook told ESPN. "Based on the facts, if they were to make such a decision, it would be ripe for judicial review. This was a kangaroo court, and you heard the commission: their decision wasn't based on fact. It was based on evidence."

According to reports, the test that showed up positive for marijuana metabolites was beset by technical inconsistencies. Two other tests, taken before and after the fight, showed marijuana levels well below the accepted standard. Those tests were analyzed by the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, the de facto testing agency, accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. But the failed test, which was taken in between the other two, was analyzed by Quest Diagnostics. Those results and methodology were "scientifically unreliable" and of a lower standard, according to Diaz's lawyers—claims backed by a medical expert on the defense team.

Diaz's attorneys also argued that the test's sample was collected unsupervised, and Diaz's name was marked on the sample in violation of privacy clauses. The Quest test showed Diaz's marijuana metabolites levels to be around five times the accepted level.

According to the Nevada commission, the Quest analysis represented a method the commission had used "over time," bringing into question Diaz's prefight questionnaire on which he was supposed to claim any substances he had taken before the fight. Diaz, a known medical marijuana patient in California, did not mark down that he had taken the drug.

"This is not just a marijuana issue," commission chairman Francisco Aguilar said. "This is an issue of marijuana, a lack of being forthright, a lack of cooperation to make the sport better, a disregard for rules—it hurts other athletes just as much."

"We have to do our job as regulators," he added. "This is not solely a case of marijuana."

According to ESPN, the January 31 fight was modified to a no-contest last month, after Diaz's opponent was suspended for one year and fined $380,000 for failing a number of tests for anabolic steroids.

In comments to the media following his suspension Monday, Diaz highlighted the hypocrisy of the UFC for taking a harsher stance on a non-performance-enhancing drug than on anabolic steroids, which have a higher chance of influencing an athletes' performance.

"That's ridiculous," he said. "I never did steroids in my life. I know all the fighters, they are all on steroids. All you motherfuckers are on steroids. I already know that. I’m the only person in this sport, for the most part, that ain’t on steroids. Now there’s new rules in effect and there’s guys who aren’t on steroids now, but they used to be. They’ve always been on steroids. I’ve never been on steroids and I didn’t break the rules now. I tested under."

 

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According to ESPN, the 5-year suspension is the second-longest to be handed down by the Nevada commission, next to a lifetime ban for middleweight fighter Wanderlei Silva in 2014 after he evaded a drug test before a fight. A district judge reversed the ban in May, citing a lack of substantial evidence, and last week, Silva appealed with the Nevada Supreme Court accusing the commission of overstepping its bounds with the sentence.