|Lance Mackey celebrating victory with his lead sled dog, Larry, in 2008
All the mushers participating in the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will be tested for alcohol and illegal drugs on the trail for the first time ever this year — a change defending three-time champion and medical marijuana user Lance Mackey believes is directed at him.
Mackey said he would abstain for purposes of this year’s race. “I’m going to pee in their little cup, and laugh in their face,” Mackey said
|Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News
|Three-time and reigning Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, left, visits with rookie Newton Marshall, of Jamaica before the race, March 7, 2010
Mackey has been open about using medical marijuana on the trail. He is among the early front-runners of the 1,100-mile Iditarod race, which began with 71 teams Sunday in Willow, Alaska.
Race officials say a musher who tests positive could face disqualification, ineligibility for future races or both.
“It’s not going to be random,” said Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee.
Observers agree that sounds pretty ominous for Mackey, a throat cancer survivor who is seeking his fourth consecutive win.
Other competitors have claimed Mackey’s use of medical marijuana gives him an advantage in the race to Nome. Mackey denies that.
Mackey admits marijuana has helped him stay awake and focused through the 1,100-mile race, but he insists it doesn’t give him an edge.
Musher Zack Steer said he has smelled and seen marijuana on the trail but doesn’t think it helps or hinders a musher’s dog care.
“I’ve never seen a musher gain a competitive advantage,” Steer said.
Alaska law allows for personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, provided the use occurs at home. In addition, Mackey, as a cancer survivor, has an Alaska medical marijuana card that entitles him to use the drug in the state legally for medical purposes.
“It isn’t the reason I’ve won three years in a row,” Mackey told the Anchorage Daily News
. “I think it’s a little bit ridiculous,” he said of the new policy. “It is a dog race, not a human race. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the race.”
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers said enforcing a drug policy has been on the front burner for a relatively small number of mushers.
“For a few people and a few mushers, it’s a really big deal,” said Zirkle, who is the secretary/treasurer of the Finishers’ Club.
While Iditarod dogs have long been tested for a lengthy list of prohibited substances, the humans they are pulling — despite the Iditarod having had an informal drug and alcohol policy since 1984 — never have until this year.
Mackey said that what he does on his own time is his business.
“The Alaska lifestyle, you can do just about anything you want if you’re not bothering anybody,” he said. “You have a little more freedom in this state and smoking pot is kind of a common thing here in Alaska.”
Mackey doesn’t blame the Iditarod board for creating the new policy at the behest of the Finishers’ Club.
Instead, he contends he is being targeted by other mushers jealous of his three straight Iditarod titles and the four Quest titles he won from 2005-08. He has been honored once at each race with the prestigious award for the best dog care.
“People are just jealous of what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “If I don’t smoke all the way to Nome, I’ll do as good or maybe even better.”
Despite his medical marijuana clearance, Mackey said he will not pursue the Iditarod’s therapeutic use exemption, nor will he jeopardize his shot at another new truck and $69,000 in prize money by smoking during the race.
And assuming he is asked to, Mackey said he will provide a urine sample if asked.
Canada’s Sebastian Schnuelle led the race on Tuesday, arriving first at the Athabascan village Nikolai, 236 miles into the race. Mackey was running eighth.
Four mushers scratched on Tuesday.