Time for sports leagues to change their approach on medical marijuana

Time for sports leagues to change their approach on medical marijuana

Terrence Allen,

Medical marijuana has been a recurring topic in government legislation over the past few years, but until recently, the conversation hadn’t emerged in the sports arena. States have their own laws surrounding medical marijuana, but professional sports leagues need to have dialogue about their rules concerning medical marijuana.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern believes the NBA should remove marijuana from its banned substance list. He recently did an interview for UNINTERRUPTED with former NBA player Al Harrington.

“I think there is universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal,” Stern said during the interview.

Karl-Anthony Towns, center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, says he agrees with Stern. Recently, Towns sat down with ESPN.com to show his support of Stern’s comments and the approval of medical marijuana in the NBA.

“You don’t have to actually make it “Mary J” [or] “Half Baked.” You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better,” Towns said in the interview.

A misconception about medical marijuana is that it has to be consumed through smoking or eating. There are parts of the plant that can be extracted and created into a gel for aching joints and muscles. Marijuana would serve as an alternative to the painkillers and other medicines that are given to players now for pain and injury treatment.

Current NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, made similar comments on this matter. In August, Silver stated that the NBA was open to allowing medical marijuana for pain treatment. It would have to be negotiated in the next collective bargaining agreement in 2023 in order for this issue to be passed. Silver leaves the door open for change but there are still penalties for positive tests until these negotiations take place.

The current collective bargaining agreement disciplines marijuana as follows:  1. A mandatory admission in marijuana program; 2. A $25,000 fine and re-entry into marijuana program; 3. A five game suspension and re-entry into program; 4. A suspension of five more games than the previous suspension.

There were two players who were suspended by the NBA for marijuana this season. Monta Ellis and Reggie Bullock were both suspended for five games. The NBA is open to changing its policy and there are owners in the NFL who want change as well.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has been very open about his stance on the NFL’s marijuana policy. Jones wants the NFL to end its ban on marijuana. He is the only owner to come out publicly and state his opinion on the issue, but he is not the only owner that is open to change.

Ian Rapoport, NFL Network insider, conducted a report containing 10 anonymous owners. The owners he talked to all support additional studies of this issue. The majority support a decriminalization of marijuana which would make it more difficult to suspend players. Two owners want to get rid of marijuana related suspensions and issue fines for infractions. Two owners don’t want to eradicate suspensions, as it may give off the idea that drug use is tolerated.

There already have been changes to the rules surrounding marijuana in the NFL. Players could test positive for marijuana four times without being suspended and the amount that counted as positive was raised from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 35 nanograms per milliliter in 2015. The trend for change could continue in the next negotiations. Like the NBA, the NFL has had its share of suspensions for marijuana.

In the 2017 season alone, there are five players who are facing season long suspensions. Among these five players, Seantrel Henderson, tackle for the Buffalo Bills, has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. This disease is often treated with medical marijuana and would explain his failed tests.

In the new CBA this is something that would be brought up to help enforce change to the policy. A person who suffers from a medical condition is required to take the medicine that their doctor prescribes. As a person, you should not have your job taken away because the rules of your employer don’t allow you to take the medicine that your doctor ordered you to take. These punishments for marijuana only exist in these two major leagues.

The NHL and MLB have differing policies when it comes to marijuana. The MLB does not test for marijuana without reasonable cause. The punishment for players who do test positive for marijuana are escalating fines. Suspension will occur if a player is blatantly disregarding their drug treatment program or if the commissioner deems them to be a threat to themselves or others.

The NHL only tests one-third of its players for stimulants and does not discipline for marijuana. The NHL does not condone marijuana, but they do not punish players for it. Any major changes to punishments regarding marijuana will happen in the NBA or NFL.

Both leagues are open to some kind of change in its banned substance rules. When their respective CBAs expire, medical marijuana is one of the key things that will be of great importance. A majority of the country is being progressive about marijuana and the sports leagues need to start being progressive too.