The legalization of medical marijuana has been spreading across the United States for the past several years, and on July 27, stewards at Mountaineer Park faced a decision that racing jurisdictions around the country will likely see more of in the near future.
Jockey Keivan Serrano underwent a random drug test on July 26, and was found to have THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in his system. (THC is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana.)
Serrano possesses a medical marijuana card, though it was obtained in Ohio. Mountaineer is located in New Cumberland, W.V. and Ohio’s medical marijuana office does not have any reciprocity agreements with other states.
West Virginia passed a medical cannabis bill three years ago when Senate Bill 386 was signed into law on Apr. 19, 2017. The bill’s language set a goal of having infrastructure such as dispensaries, medical marijuana cards, etc., in place within two years, but it still hasn’t happened.
“Medical marijuana is legal in West Virginia,” said West Virginia attorney Harley Wagner. “The legislation has been passed, it’s just that the components to it actually coming to fruition aren’t in place yet.”
Until then, any individual caught with marijuana in their possession in West Virginia is still able to be cited by police. Wagner explained that for a small amount of marijuana, the case could be taken to court and the citation could be expunged after six months if the person does not accrue any similar citations.
Serrano did not have any marijuana in his possession when he was tested by the stewards at Mountaineer. At the time of his testing — after the races on July 26 — Serrano said he was straightforward with the testing agent about his medical marijuana card, and included the information on the official testing report.
Serrano said stewards called him the following morning to tell him he’d tested positive for THC, as he’d expected. They asked about Serrano’s card, and why he had the prescription.
“I use it to sleep at night,” Serrano said. “We race at night, and sometimes I don’t get home until 11:30 at night, then I’d have to get up again at five the next morning. So it helps me sleep.”
Serrano said the stewards asked him to send them the documentation he had in his possession, because West Virginia racing rules indicate that a licensee testing positive for a prescription drug is not subject to penalties, under rule 178-1-24.3.v. He also said that the stewards told him this was their first time dealing with a medical marijuana card held by a licensee.
It was Serrano’s second positive test for THC in 2020 — he also tested positive at Fonner Park in Nebraska back in March.
Serrano found out via the ARCI website on July 29 that he had been summarily suspended by the stewards, pending a hearing scheduled for Aug. 5.
According to Joe Moore, executive director of the West Virginia Racing Commission, Serrano was suspended because he “did not produce a document which identified the amount or dosage of medical marijuana that was permissible for him to ingest in appropriate and specified intervals, nor did he produce a document that would have allowed the Stewards to determine whether the amount of THC in his system was consistent with a prescribed dosage.”
The level of THC in Serrano’s system at the time of the test was not made public in the official ruling.
Serrano made waves on social media after the suspension became public, announcing he was leaving the sport of horse racing, but the 22-year-old said his retirement from the saddle had been on the horizon for a while.
“I’ve always struggled with my weight, and I always told myself that if I ever got scared or if I got too heavy, that I would stop,” Serrano said. “I don’t want to not give owners and trainers 100 percent, because that’s something I pride myself on.”
Serrano plans to return to school in Puerto Rico. He’ll attend pre-med classes online beginning in August with the goal of one day becoming a neurosurgeon.
“I had a good run,” said Serrano, who retires with 105 wins from 1,129 starts. “I don’t have any regrets.”
In the meantime, the West Virginia racing commission has not officially made a determination regarding the use of medical marijuana in licensees, including jockeys.
“The West Virginia Racing Commission has not addressed medical marijuana in its rules inasmuch as the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR), the state agency responsible for administering West Virginia’s medical marijuana program, has not implemented the program and rules in West Virginia,” Moore explained. “It remains to be seen how the state of West Virginia will address the recognition of other state programs and other state medical marijuana authorization cards. Until such time as the Racing Commission has more direction and guidance from the WVDHHR, it is premature to make amendments to the rules of racing.”
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