When Super Bowl XLVIII pitted the only two teams in the league from states with legal marijuana against each other, the admittedly silly story line surprisingly ended up giving rise to a larger discussion of how professional football should treat players who use cannabis. Or, more accurately, athletes, fans and the sports media at last began to question how the league can dish out long suspensions for benign marijuana use while treating players involved in violent crime, domestic abuse and impaired driving far more leniently. Especially when cannabis offers a safer, often more effective alternative to the dangerous pharmaceutical painkillers that all-too-often come with the territory in the NFL, where injury is a fact of life.
Meanwhile, with scientific evidence showing that cannabis offers proven neuroprotective qualities, no less an authority than Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Dr. Lester Grinspoon has urged the NFL in an open letter to stop drug testing for THC, as marijuana may offer a preventive treatment against the debilitating concussions many football players suffer.
And now, in the wake all-pro wide receiver Josh Gordon's facing a potential yearlong suspension for pot, it appears the league may be ready to make serious reforms. ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports that “when and if” the NFL announces a new drug test policy, it will increase the threshold at which THC triggers a positive result, while significantly reducing penalties for those who do test over the limit.
A source said the NFL’s policy on marijuana is outdated, pointing out that the World Anti-Doping Agency has a higher threshold for a positive test than the NFL currently does.
The NFL Players Association has expressed to the league an interest in studying the medical research that has led to the legalization of marijuana in many states for medicinal use, but it believes changes are needed in the meantime regardless.
What is holding up the implementation and announcement of changes to the league’s drug policy is a continued standoff over arbitration of discipline. In cases of nonanalytical positives (i.e., an Alex Rodriguez-type case in which a player is found to be in violation of the drug policy by some method other than a failed test) or in cases of violations of law (i.e., a player getting caught trying to smuggle prescription drugs across the Canadian border), the NFLPA has asked that discipline appeals be heard by an independent arbitrator.
The NFL has continued to insist that the commissioner have final say over discipline matters.
So assuming this actually happens, bravo to the NFL for recognizing the benefits of natural grass.