A month after he said he would retire as a mixed martial arts fighter, Nick Diaz is fighting again, though this time the battle will be in a board room instead of a cage.
The former Strikeforce welterweight champion was suspended Feb. 8 by the Nevada Athletic Commission pending a hearing after allegedly failing a postfight urinalysis following a Feb. 4 fight in Las Vegas. He has filed a novel defense with the commission, an indication that Diaz probably wants to continue his career as a fighter.
Diaz alleges the positive drug test was not positive at all. Diaz lost a five-round decision to Carlos Condit in the main event of UFC 143 at Mandalay Bay and submitted to a postfight drug screen.
Diaz's urine contained 25 nanograms of marijuana metabolites, which according to the Nevada commission's complaint "are not drugs approved by the Commission." The Nevada commission considers anything above 15 nanograms a positive result.
Diaz attorney Ross Goodman, the son of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, said that the metabolites that appeared in Diaz's urine are an inactive ingredient in marijuana and do not appear on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list used by Nevada.
Goodman pointed out that marijuana is on WADA's banned list during competition. What is banned, however, is Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Diaz tested positive for the presence of THC following a 2007 fight in Las Vegas and served a six-month suspension.
Diaz said in a statement to the commission that he had ceased smoking marijuana eight days before the fight. In Goodman's response to the complaint against Diaz, Diaz said he has been prescribed medical marijuana by Dr. Robert E. Sullivan, his personal physician. Diaz said he suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Goodman said that THC is gone from a user's system quickly, but that the metabolites can remain in the body for a long time. Chemist Jon Hiatt, a noted expert in the testing of bodily fluids and toxic substances, said the levels of the marijuana metabolites in Diaz's systems were elevated because of the exertion of the five-round fight as well as attempts to cut more weight than he normally had prior to the match.
"WADA prohibits marijuana in-competition because they don't want people fighting, or doing [expletive] under the influence of marijuana," Goodman said. "Nobody can say – not the athletic commissioner, not [executive director] Keith [Kizer] – nobody can say Nick was impaired or under the influence of marijuana. Nobody.
"So let's just talk street. Let's just talk common sense here. Why do you want to punish him, basically for a metabolite that resulted from legal use eight days before the fight? Why? What did it do that you guys [the commission] are so concerned about, because contrary to what Keith is saying, we know it didn't create a safety issue because everybody knows … that it's out of your system in a couple of hours."
However, Diaz may run into difficulty even if Goodman's unusual defense holds up. At a physical examination at the weigh-in Feb. 3, Diaz was given a medical form to fill out, which he and a representative signed. On it, he checked "no" on the box in answer to the question, "Have you taken/received any prescribed medications in the last 2 weeks?"
If he stopped using medical marijuana only eight days prior to the Feb. 4 fight, he was then taking a prescription drug in the last two weeks and his answer on the questionnaire was incorrect.
[Related: See Nick Diaz's prefight questionnaire (PDF)]
The significance is that the commission has come down hard on athletes it found had answered such questions untruthfully.
Christopher Eccles, a Nevada deputy attorney general who represents the state athletic commission, referred telephone calls and email messages to public information officer Jennifer M. Lopez.
In a written statement, Lopez said, "Not only did Nick Diaz violate the law by testing positive for marijuana metabolites, but he also lied to the Commission on his Pre-Fight Questionnaire when he swore that he had not used any prescribed medications in two weeks before the fight."
Goodman, though, is confident he has a case that will hold up and will enable Diaz to escape a suspension and/or a fine.
The difference between having the active ingredient for marijuana in one's system and having marijuana metabolites is significant, Goodman said. WADA does not prohibit marijuana use outside of competition.
Calls to representatives at WADA and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) were not returned.
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