The Nevada Athletic Commission hammered Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Thursday, hitting him with a whopping $900,000 fine and suspending him for nine months for using marijuana before his Sept. 15 middleweight fight in Las Vegas with Sergio Martinez.
The suspension is retroactive to the night of the fight, so Chavez will become eligible to fight in the U.S. again on June 16.
The Nevada commission was within its rights to fine Chavez, who had failed a 2009 drug test in the state. It fined him 30 percent of his purse – the same fine that it gave UFC fighter Nick Diaz for the same offense last year – but Chavez had earned a purse of $3 million. Diaz was fined 30 percent of his $200,000 purse and $65,000 Fight of the Night bonus.
Chavez's fine is the second-largest ever doled out in Nevada, trailing only the $3 million the commission assessed ex-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield in a 1997 fight in Las Vegas.
But the massive fine given to Chavez for a seemingly minor infraction highlights the need for state athletic commissions to update their regulations regarding marijuana use.
There is almost unanimous consent within the drug-testing community that marijuana is not a performance enhancer. The World Anti-Doping Agency only considers marijuana usage an offense if it occurs within competition. Additionally, WADA has said it is considering dropping marijuana from its prohibited list, though it has yet to do so.
Most state athletic commissions, such as Nevada's, follow the WADA prohibited list. Chavez knew going in that marijuana use prior to a fight was a violation of the rules, and by that standard, he deserved to be punished.
The size of the fine, though, is way out of proportion to the offense.
"I talked to [Chavez attorney] Don Campbell and we're completely shocked by this," said Chavez promoter Bob Arum, who was traveling in Mexico. "We're going to appeal this fine. It's completely outrageous. It violates the eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the sixth [article of] the Nevada constitution."
There is a major problem with performance-enhancing drugs in sports and more, not less, needs to be done to combat it. But fining a fighter $900,000 for smoking a joint isn't going to have the desired effect.
Nevada has long been a leader in the drug-testing environment and began testing for steroids in 2002. And in this case, Nevada should be the leader again and come up with a rule in which it revises its stance on marijuana use.
As it stands, a fighter who smokes a single joint prior to a fight in Nevada is treated no differently than one who is on a regimen of performance-enhancing drugs such as EPO, human growth hormone or anabolic steroids.
Those three will enable a fighter to become far more lethal and dangerous to an opponent. The only danger of marijuana use in a fight, if there is any danger at all, is to the user.
The commissions understandably want to protect the fighters from themselves and if, in any way, marijuana dulls the senses, there should be some sort of suspension and perhaps nominal fine if a fighter tests positive for it.
The better move would be to quit testing for it entirely, but the states may be reluctant to do that if they believe a fighter is at increased risk of being injured while high.
It's beyond time, though, to do away with such whopping fines for using marijuana.
There will be outrage among the fan base any time an athlete is fined or suspended for using marijuana. The UFC cut Matthew Riddle, a Nevada resident who holds a card for medical marijuana use, after he tested positive for marijuana following a fight card on Feb. 16 in London.
It was Riddle's second offense and the UFC was within its rights to cut him. Riddle knew that he would be drug tested – specifically for marijuana – and still blatantly ignored the rule. That deserves some sort of penalty.
But a $900,000 fine for using marijuana, when there are fighters injecting themselves with steroids every day, is over the top.
Nevada should, as it often has been, be the leader and change this policy as soon as possible.
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