As this story went live, a pretty mantastic dude named Lance Mackey
and a dozen of his sled dogs were working their way across the frozen wilderness of Alaska's Seward Peninsula toward the finish line of the Iditarod
, easily one of the toughest races on earth.
Mackey is in the lead again
, a position the three-time champ has become used to, but this year there's something missing for Lance, namely a few sweet little puffs of performance-enhancing marijuana.
For 2010, an explicit ban on dope on the trail is finally being enforced. And it's all because of Mackey, an admitted marijuana user
. We caught up with Mackey and a few of his competitors at the start of the race to talk about Mary Jane's last stand in the Last Frontier.
Normally it's tough to imagine anyone raising a fuss about a quick toke on the trail in the middle of the wilderness and a grueling 1,000-mile-plus trek, especially if the toker holds a valid medical marijuana card.
But here's the thing -- Mackey is very, very good at racing sled dogs. In fact he might be the best there has ever been. Over the last six years he has won three Iditarods (in a row, and easily) and four Yukon Quests
(the only other 1,000-mile sled dog race in the world). Two years in a row he won the Quest one month, then the Iditarod the next -- a mushing feat never previously accomplished.
That kind of success breeds resentment and jealousy. It seems that powerful, but petty, emotions have led the Iditarod rules committee to declare that this year they would enforce -- for the first time
-- a 26-year-old rule banning marijuana use by mushers. It's worth noting that growing dope for personal use is legal in Alaska. So what's the issue here?
When asked if this enforcement was directly related to Mackey's success -- after all, Mackey has openly admitted to smoking on the trail -- Iditarod officials responded that it would be "hard to deny." They further added that it was at the urging of Mackey's competitors that they took action.
Aaron Burmiester -- an early leader in last year's race until Mackey surged past with a power move that Burmiester couldn't match -- simply said, "It's time."
Mackey, for his part, feels the whole thing is "a bit ridiculous. It's a dog race, not a human race."
The dogs, by the way, have been drug tested since 1994 (though not for pot ... yet). So far none have tested positive, but it does raise the question -- is marijuana a performance enhancer with regard to racing a dog team?
The answer is no, according to Zack Steer, a fellow Mackey competitor and member of the Iditarod rules committee. "I've never seen a musher gain a competitive advantage," he told Asylum.
All the same, Steer and his committee voted to enforce the rule this year.
Mackey told us he's all set "to prove some people wrong" this year. He says he'll stop using for this race, despite the fact that he has a legit prescription for THC. His medical marijuana card is the result of a battle with throat cancer a few years ago that left him with no saliva glands or taste buds, but did win him the Most Inspirational Musher award in the 2002 race.
With this year's race entering its final hours, Mackey is leading the way again, and we've got a pretty good sense of how he'll be celebrating
once he's off the trail, whether he captures his fourth Iditarod title in a row or not.