Two back-of-pack Iditarod mushers test positive for drugs

NO SANCTIONS: Racers not identified, finished in bottom 15.

May 6, 2010 

Two mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have tested positive for THC, the pyschoactive compound in marijuana, race officials said Thursday.

But Iditarod Trail Committee executive director Stan Hooley said a new rule calling for drug testing isn't clear enough to allow them to impose sanctions against the mushers, who were among the back-of-the-packers in the 1,000-mile race.

"It's best to use this as a learning experience," Hooley said.

When discussing the new testing policy before the March 6 start of the race, Iditarod officials said any positive results would be announced along with the names of those testing positive for banned substances.

Race officials announced March 24 that results for the first 40 finishers came back clean and said results for the remaining 15 finishers were expected the following week. No results were announced, and the race spokesman didn't respond to requests from The Associated Press for results.

Hooley also said the identities of the two mushers who tested positive won't be disclosed.

Without sanctions, it would "not be prudent" to release the names, Hooley said. But he acknowledged they were among the last 15 competitors to reach the finish in Nome.

The rule enforced in this year's race specifically deals with banned drug use during the race. Since marijuana stays in the system about a month, officials couldn't prove the mushers used pot during the race.

The drug testing also looked for other substances including cocaine, PCP, amphetamines and opiates.

"The other drugs are all out of the system in a much shorter length of time, and had anyone tested positive for any other drugs, we could be fairly certain that drug use had occurred in the race," Hooley said.

An Iditarod attorney advised officials against taking any action this time around.

The policy will be refined for future races, however. One possible change is to impose sanctions on any positive results.

When the earlier results were announced in late March, reigning champion Lance Mackey said he felt vindicated. Mackey, a throat cancer survivor who won his fourth consecutive Iditarod this year, has been criticized for using medical marijuana in past races. Some mushers even complained it gave him a competitive edge.

Top mushers were tested in the Eskimo village of White Mountain, the second-to-last checkpoint where competitors take a final mandatory eight-hour layover. Others were tested after reaching Nome.

Under race rules, anyone testing positive would face disqualification. The drug rule has existed in some form since 1984 but was never strictly enforced until this year.

The Iditarod began testing the sled dogs for prohibited substances in 1994.

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