Marijuana holds a unique place in American society. For starters, there are two disparate schools of thought concerning the green, stinky bud. On one side is the opinion that marijuana, as an illegal drug, has no place in our culture. The other side argues that the substance’s supposed benefits greatly outweigh the risks associated with it, and that therefore America should re-consider marijuana’s present legal status. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

The conflicting views, and changing times, have led to a variety of different laws around the country regulating the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Nationally, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, meaning that the federal government has determined it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Other drugs on the Schedule I list include heroin and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (more commonly referred to as MDPV and even more commonly referred to as “bath salts“).

State-by-state, however, the policies regarding marijuana vary. Some states have outright legalized the possession of  certain amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Others have followed the federal government’s lead and have maintained marijuana’s prohibition, but even within those states exist some municipalities where what is referred to as “simple possession” has been legalized.

Still other states operate in a bit of a legal gray area, having opted instead to consider marijuana a medical treatment. California is probably the most prominent example of one of these states, and passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 to codify that stance. Under California’s state law, physicians may prescribe marijuana to their patients to assist with any symptom they believe can be relieved through the substance’s use. The state’s residents who receive these prescriptions then must register and receive a license to possess marijuana before they may do so with impunity. Nevada has a similar program in place, but for a slightly more restrictive list of conditions.

One of that state’s residents currently making use of its medical marijuana laws is free-agent MMA welterweight Matthew Riddle. Riddle received a prescription from a Las Vegas doctor and has been (somewhat unabashedly) taking his medicine ever since. While, legally speaking, Riddle has yet to run into any trouble since obtaining his medical marijuana license, his continued use of the substance caused him to test positive for its metabolites after two UFC fights, both of which negated wins for Riddle, with the second leading to his dismissal by the promotion last week.

Riddle’s release has caused some controversy in the MMA community. The fighter’s defenders say that Riddle, as a medical marijuana patient, was not technically doing anything improper. Marijuana’s status as a performance-enhancing drug is tenuous at best, they argue, and its place on the banned substances list is the result of laws which, if looked at in the proper context, Riddle is not violating. Furthermore, they argue, the state athletic commissions that regulate the UFC’s domestic events allow fighters with so-called therapeutic use exemptions to take advantage of things like testosterone replacement therapy, the effects of which are unquestionably performance-enhancing.

Outside of the arguments over the regulatory reasons that led to Riddle’s ouster, there’s the fact that he was technically in the midst of a four-fight winning streak when he was axed. Granted, two of those wins—including the split decision victory over Che Mills on Feb. 16—were later changed to no-contests after Riddle tested positive for marijuana, but ignoring the aftermath, Riddle had gone four fights without a loss. The UFC makes a regular policy of releasing fighters who have recently been defeated, but rarely does it part ways with one who has been winning. In fact, only because of Riddle’s drug tests did the promotion have the contractual leeway to make the move it did.

Confusing the issue even further is the fact that Riddle’s most recent positive test came after an event held in England. When the UFC travels abroad, it tends to adopt the policies of the majority of American athletic commissions when it comes to drug testing. That being said, however, it was the UFC, not an official sanctioning body, that carried out the test and decided to count marijuana among the banned substances.

Finally, there’s a question of consistency in the UFC’s response to Riddle’s positive tests. Nick Diaz, another UFC welterweight, tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his loss to Carlos Condit in February 2012. It was Diaz’s second positive test in his professional career, though just his first since his return to the UFC. Diaz was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for one year after a hearing, and as a result has been out of action for 13 months and counting. Diaz was not released by the UFC, however, and, in fact, will fight Georges St-Pierre for his UFC welterweight title on March 16. The prospect of a title shot for Diaz following both a loss and a drug-related suspension has many MMA fans scratching their heads, but the action is especially perplexing when compared to the UFC’s treatment of Riddle.

Stripping away all the technicalities, however, it seems like a pretty clear-cut case from the UFC’s perspective. Fair or not, marijuana remains on the list of the UFC’s banned substances. Whether its fighters are being tested by athletic commissions or the promotion itself, a positive test for marijuana metabolites is not permitted in the UFC. Riddle violated this policy on more than one occasion and his firing from the world’s premier MMA promotion—the only banner under which Riddle has fought professionally, by the way—is the result. It’s no different than a regular citizen being busted with marijuana by the authorities in a place where its possession is not permitted or an office worker employed in a “drug-free environment” testing positive for marijuana. In both of those cases, the offenders would have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. The state of Nevada might be okay with Riddle using marijuana as medicine, but the UFC doesn’t make those sorts of exceptions.

Now, the rules concerning marijuana will likely continue to relax. The substance continues to be an increasingly accepted part of American culture (Harold and Kumar, Weeds, pretty much every famous musician) and its legalization in Colorado and Washington has opened new doors for those who seek to change its status nationally. In sports, these changes have manifested themselves in a few alterations to various leagues’ drug-testing policies. The NBA, for instance, doesn’t even test for marijuana anymore. In the UFC, however, marijuana remains a no-no, so if Matthew Riddle wants to keep taking hits, his career might continue to take them as well.

Photo: Matthew Riddle (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.