After Ravens’ running back Ray Rice received a two-game suspension from the NFL for knocking his wife out cold, fans found it unfair to suspend other players four games for testing positive for marijuana. It is hard to compute how hitting a few bong loads is twice as worse as hitting a woman. However, the rules for suspension in the NFL regarding marijuana use were collectively bargained by the players with the league. Despite how unfair the suspension for marijuana is in the NFL, it is not going to change any time soon.  

Even with the changing public stance on marijuana, at this time it is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s best interest to maintain the appearance of a marijuana-free league. The league may continue to push back during the next collective bargaining agreement against a changing view from the players as well. The next scheduled collective bargaining agreement summer is 2020. The NFL will most likely not be the first major sports league to open up to pot. Perhaps the NFL will be the last of the four to join the party. If you simply look at a map of each league’s footprint on America atop a map of marijuana-friendly states, the results may point to an unlikely candidate for the first major pro-sport to go pro-pot.  

The states that have a professional sports team and do not have medical or recreational marijuana are dwindling. Some of these “Red” states have strong convictions against marijuana and the sports leagues that operate in those states know that. These teams/businesses are always trying to minimize the times they upset their customers/fans. On the other hand, the pro-pot states (and Canada) continue to increase and could sway leagues in the other direction.

Some may suspect the NFL to be the first to loosen the reins on their marijuana policies considering the numerous suspensions the league doles out. Plus, playing in the NFL is a painful occupation and using marijuana as a pain reliever is understandable. However, the NFL has the lowest percentage of franchises operating in a marijuana state compared to the other big pro-sports leagues. Only 28% of NFL teams play in a weed-friendly city.  In fact, four NFL divisions have NO marijuana-friendly franchise cities.

Some may suggest that the NBA is likely to turn “GREEN” before other leagues do because of their hip-hop influence. Hip-hop embraces marijuana and can be heard doing so blasted loudly around basketball courts everywhere. Yet, the NBA comes in third with 37% of their franchises playing in a “GREEN” community. As the NBA expands their footprint internationally, their support of marijuana will grow with it.   

What about the drug culture that exists in the MLB? Most of baseball’s drug problem is with steroids. That league’s stats on gunja-fan franchises can’t be artificially enhanced to number one. Baseball has 43% of its teams in recreation/medical marijuana areas. (An argument could be made for the NL West being the GREENEST division in sports. LAD-COL-SF-SD-ARI)

However, the sport yet to be mentioned beats them all.  Yes, hockey!  The NHL has more than half of its league positioned in weed-friendly markets.  Plus, the need for pain relief is comparable to the NFL.  Marijuana pain management could someday become a part of a trainer’s toolbox.  It also seems like hockey players can handle a loosened marijuana policy.  You rarely hear of drug offenses in the NHL, and those that do arise are mostly performance-enhancing drugs.  

The “GREEN” map is going to look different after November 2014. Professional sports leagues will change right along with it.  Punishing users will be a discipline of the past. Owners will pressure commissioners to keep key players on the field. Then the training room will start suggesting marijuana prescriptions for pain relief. After the country’s marijuana prohibition begins to ease, sponsorship for marijuana brands will be available. Entrepreneurs will somehow figure out how to sell cannabis concessions.

The future of marijuana in the sports market is still far away. However, the NHL looks to be the first domino to fall.  The MLB’s pace of play is perfect for the stoner market, patient people that stare into space for hours at a time. The NBA can embrace its inner-Tupac and ease up on being higher than “Above the Rim” in-and-off-season. Then maybe, just maybe, the NFL will treat a recreational vice a bit lighter than domestic violence.  

(Photo: avalanche.nhl.com)