Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The NFL Should Let Players Use Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reason article/video, which seems like a fitting topic to highlight on this first big weekend of professional football games. Here is some of the set-up to the five-minute video I have enbedded below:

"I was sitting in the training room one day and I just watched player after player come in to take a Toradol shot just to practice," says former NFL player Ricky Williams. "I realized if we have to take all this medication, all these pharmaceuticals, just to practice it can't be good for our bodies in the long run. And that's when I started to look at my health seriously and look for alternatives."

Williams, the Heisman-winning running back who set multiple rushing records for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended by the NFL and then retired under a cloud of shame in 2003 for testing positive for marijuana. Dolphins fans, the media, and the league all turned on Williams, labeling him an underachiever with a drug problem. Williams ultimately returned in 2005 and played several more seasons in the NFL, but the stigma never went away.

But what if the league and the public were wrong to judge Ricky Williams? What if he was just ahead of his time?

Some researchers are now finding evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have two major benefits for athletes: 1) they act as a non-addictive pain reliever and 2) they can protect the brain from injury. These healing properties could be beneficial in a league where opioid addiction and concussions have become significant health concerns.

Williams is now part of a group of former NFL players who are lobbying the league to reconsider its position on marijuana. The former NFL star was one of several athletes in attendance at the 420 Games in Santa Monica, CA this Spring representing the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, a group dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana.

Cannabis is a banned substance under the NFL's player agreement and commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that he will not change league policy to allow medicinal marijuana until research proves it is a legitimate drug. But marijuana is classified as an illegal substance at the federal level, which makes getting grants and approval for research a long and arduous process. So former players are putting up their own money to get around the government's tight regulations and fund their own studies.

"Cannabis has been in the closet. It's been suppressed. It's coming out," says Constance Finley, founder of the cannabis extract firm Constance Therapeutics. Finley is working with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to produce the evidence players need to change NFL policy.

"The owners have to see responsible, smart people who are completely mainstream to have their experiences reflected, have their minds opened," says Finley. "I think that we could move past the impasse with the level of research that we're talking about doing. It will be irrefutable."

Players like Ricky Williams are hoping their participation in these studies can lead to change and help future athletes stay healthy long after their playing days are over. "Hopefully as public opinion starts to change the leagues will soften their stance," says Williams. "Especially the NFL. They could really be ahead of the charge as far as getting this medicine to people who really need it."

September 11, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Skateboarding at the 2020 Olympics may have one big problem: Weed"

I have be enthralled by the Rio 2016 Olympics, but I have not had a chance to link the quadrennial fascination with quirky sports to my persistent obsession with marijuana law, policy and reform. Until I saw this Mashable article, which shares a headline with the title of this post. Here is how the article gets started:

Getting blazed and athletic prowess may seem like an unlikely combination, except in the world of competitive skateboarding. Skateboarding is one of five new sports set to make their debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — like your uncle who wants to get down with the youth — may not be ready for the anti-establishment nature of skate culture.

Australia's Tas Pappas, one of the world's top skateboarders in the '90s, has suggested the use of marijuana in skateboarding might dissuade athletes from wanting to compete at the Olympics. "I'm wondering how it's going to work as far as the drug testing is concerned, because some guys skate really well on weed and if they have to stop smoking for one competition (the Olympics) it might really affect their performance," Pappas told ABC News.

It's no secret weed and professional sport haven't been the best of friends. Since the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) inception in 1999, cannabinoids have been on the organisation's annual list of in-competition prohibited substances. Australian sporting codes tried to lobby WADA to remove the cannabinoid prohibition in 2012, suggesting the drug wasn't performance enhancing. In response, WADA raised the cannabinoid threshold to 150 nanograms per millilitre in 2013, 10 times its previous limit.

While the relaxed measure reflects changing attitudes to marijuana globally, the current situation means if Olympic skateboarders get caught with a cannabinoid concentration above WADA's threshold, they could be stripped of medals or banned from competition.

August 15, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?

Untitled-1_2Long-time readers are familiar with a number of posts in this space discussing a number of current and former NFL players talking about medical marijuana as a alternative to traditional painkillers as a way to treat chronic pain (and perhaps brain injuries) from thier playing days.  Another recent article on this front comes from PBS in this article, headlined "For some NFL players, ban on medical marijuana is a real pain," has has this overview:

Percocet or pot?  An increasing number of Americans are choosing to use legalized cannabis instead of highly addictive opioids to control chronic pain but not in the NFL where a blanket ban is still in place.   A group of retired players are working toward changing that, knowing firsthand what it's like to live on pills.

It makes great sense that past and present NFL football players are at the forefront of some discussions about medical marijuana, and I continue to believe that these athletes could play a huge role in legitimating medical marijuana use in the years ahead.  But during a week in which sports talk-radio and the sports pages are filled with reports of dozens of NBA altheles signing new contracts paying them tens of millions of dollars(!), I am wondering whether stars from another prominent US professional sports league might eventually play some role in legitimating recreartional marijuana use.

Notably, one former NBA player has recently suggested that up to 80% of all NBA players use marijuana.  Even if this number is significantly inflated and, say, only 25% of NBA players use marijuana recreationally, this would still mean that there are likely at least a dozen marijuana users among the 50+ players who have recently signed free agent contracts that will be paying them well over ten million dollars per year for being elite athletes.

For a host of financial/personal reasons, current NBA players are wise not to say a word about marijuana use or the national marijuana reform movement.  With tens of millon dollars at stake in their new contracts (not to mention future endorsement or broadcasting interests), there is no reason an active players would or should, right now, feel comfortable talking about marijuana use among NBA players or even openly giving a donation to a marijuana research or reform organization.   But, given the reasonable assumption that the NBA now has now the greatest percentage of multi-millionaire employees who use marijuana and still perform terrifically at their job, I think marijuana reform organizations ought to be looking to that league for potential future reform advocates.

July 5, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Active player urges NFL to allow its employees to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief

ASA_USA_Today_NFL_Preview_AdRegular readers of this blog likely know that I think pro football players could (and perhaps will) be hugely important social force in charging national perceptions concerning marijuana as a legitimate medicine for dealing with pain. Consequently, I find both notable and significnat this recent New York Times piece headined "Raven Calls on N.F.L. to Allow Marijuana Use for Sport’s Pains." Here are excerpts:

Eugene Monroe has had his share of bumps and bruises during his seven­year N.F.L. career as an offensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens.  He has had shoulder injuries, ankle sprains, concussions and all the usual wear and tear that comes from hitting defenders dozens of times a game.

To deal with these injuries, Monroe has stepped forward and called upon the N.F.L. to stop testing players for marijuana so he and other players can take the medical version of the drug to treat their chronic pain, and avoid the addictive opioids that teams regularly dispense.   “We now know that these drugs are not as safe as doctors thought, causing higher rates of addiction, causing death all around our country,” Monroe said in an interview on Friday, “and we have cannabis, which is far healthier, far less addictive and, quite frankly, can be better in managing pain.”

Retired football players like Kyle Turley and Ricky Williams have promoted the benefits of marijuana and called for the league to acknowledge those benefits. Monroe, though, may be one of the first to openly urge the league to stop testing for the drug, possibly risking the wrath of owners, league officials and other players.

In a series of posts on Twitter in March, Monroe castigated Commissioner Roger Goodell for refusing to modify the league’s stance on the drug.  Monroe also donated $10,000 to help pay for research on the benefits of medical marijuana, and he challenged other players to match his gift.  “It’s a shame that Roger Goodell would tell our fans there’s no medical vs recreational distinction,” Monroe wrote.

Last week, Monroe said he had given $80,000 to Realm of Caring, a Colorado-­based advocacy group that is working with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to study the impact of medical marijuana on traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. Monroe also started a website about the use of marijuana for pain management.

Though two dozen states now allow the use of some forms of marijuana, the N.F.L. has not softened its stance on the drug.  Before the Super Bowl in February, Goodell said the league’s medical advisers continued to look at the research but did not have enough evidence to warrant a change in the league’s position. “Yes, I agree there have been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view,” Goodell said. “Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”

Even if the N.F.L. changed its position, any changes to the league’s policy on banned substances would have to be negotiated with the N.F.L. Players Association.  Monroe said that he had met with the association’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, and that talks were continuing....

Monroe said that players had told him that they supported his call to soften the league’s stance on marijuana testing, but no current player has publicly backed him. The Ravens’ owner, Steve Bisciotti, tacitly supported Monroe. “We’re not the ones taking that physical abuse,” Bisciotti told balitmoreravens.com. “We’re not talking about a kid that’s been suspended three times coming out and saying that. I respect Eugene a lot, and I think all he asked for is more studying on the subject.”...

Monroe said he was not afraid of any retribution for his stance in part because he said he did not use marijuana. But from the research he has done, Monroe said the benefits were strong enough to justify pushing the league and the union to relax its position, even if it hurt his standing in the N.F.L. “My health is far more important than any possible career implications,” Monroe said. “I want to be there for my family.”

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

May 16, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Examining how the NCAA is dealing and should be dealing with marijuana reform

A student in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana reform is presenting this week on how the NCAA approaches marijuana issues involving student athlete. The student has authored this preview blurb to go along with links to assembled background reading:

One of the “hotter” topics in college sports today revolves around the personal activities of high profile student-athletes. When allegations surface that a student-athlete has used marijuana, the focus immediately goes to potential consequences. However, these consequences vary among the leagues, conferences, and schools that student-athletes attend. While the NCAA has (somewhat) consistent procedure for dealing with drug violations, the potential consequences aren’t always clear. Additionally, the potential consequences and treatment of marijuana violations are not always consistent across the board.

These material and articles provide background and highlight some main points for discussion:

NCAA: 2015-16 NCAA Banned Drugs

AP: “Schools Was Athlete Penalties for Marijuana” - Eric Olson, Dec. 2015

The Wall Street Journal: “The NCAA’s Drug Problem” - Sharon Terlep, March 2015

NCAA: "Marijuana and the interocollegiate student-athlete: Implications for Prevention” - Jason Kilmer, Ph.D., University of Washington; Karalyn Holten, University of Washington

 

April 11, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How will legalization of marijuana effect sports leagues policies regarding marijuana use?

The question in the title of this post is posed by one of my seminar students who will be presenting on this topic to the rest of the class this afternoon.  Here is introduction for his colleagues and others interested in this engaging query:

Many players are pushing towards open marijuana policies because of the potential health benefits of marijuana use. Players argue that they can be taking marijuana instead of other synthetic pain killers to keep them on the field or court.  The players arguments generally fall on deaf ears, the league doesn't want to have any of it.  

Here’s why; The league is concerned about its image.  In the code of every sports league is the phrase, “integrity of the game.” In other words, the league has the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the game.  This applies to players conduct both on and off  the field.

For conduct on the field, the league is concerned that marijuana use will effect players ability to play the game.  The players abilities may become diminished by the use of marijuana which in turn would diminish the competitive integrity of the game.  What if marijuana use improved players ability to play the game – would the league ban it similar to steroids or would the league embrace it because it makes the game more exciting?  (Marijuana does not have the negative consequences typically associated with steroids, an argument for  allowing its use.)

For conduct off the field, the league is concerned about its image. Every league has “body image issues.”

  • NFL – Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Josh Gordon
  • NBA – Donald Sterling…
  • Olympics – Michael Phelps

The list goes on and on. The leagues want to keep a sterling image and the concern is that allowing marijuana use will taint their image. They are unlikely to move until marijuana use is more accepted. Its just good to keep things how they are for business purposes. They don't want to alienate fans.

On the other hand, leagues have  incredible ability to shape policy.  The leagues may even pave the way for legalization and normalization of marijuana use to treat pain if they would embrace the players requests. The more medical discovery regarding concussions and other ailments and its treatment of marijuana the more likely the leagues will become a factor in this arena.

Maybe even some leagues will fund a study?

Other interesting articles:

March 31, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Could NFL's survival depend on medical marijuana breakthrough?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this provocative new Forbes commentary headlined "The NFL Should Be Investing In Marijuana If It Wants To Survive." Authored by Blake Yagman and Jason Belzer, here are excerpts:

The National Football League has survived more public relations crises in the past year than most multi-billion dollar organizations endure in a decade. Yet the greatest existential threat to the NFL, if not to the existence of football itself, still remains Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or “CTE.”...

Terrifyingly, the vast prevalence of the disease may not have been known until fairly recently. Just this year, Boston University found the existence of CTE in the brains of 96% of 91 tested subjects, all of whom played football at some organized level. When the disease was first discovered in 2002 in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the NFL initially tried to limit the fallout from the discovery. According to Omalu, “NFL doctors told me that if 10% of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”

Last year, Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon called attention to a neuro-protective agent that has the potential to render concussions obsolete – Marijuana. According to Grinspoon, a National Institute of Health study from 1998 revealed the neuro-protective qualities of Marijuana’s two main psycho-active ingredients, Cannabidiol and Delta-9 Tetrahudrocannabidol (THC). In 2008, a similar study in Spain revealed that the THC-receptors in the brain are involved in the healing process upon sustaining brain injury. Most recently, the National Institute of Health showed that THC significantly decreases the death rate of patients with physically sustained brain trauma. In 2013, a team of researchers in Brazil were able to prove that Cannabidiol has the ability to regenerate brain cells in mice. The study specifically showed a capacity to promote the growth of brain cells in the areas of the brain attributed to depression, anxiety, and chronic stress—the symptoms of CTE.

If components of Marijuana have been proven beneficial to patients with neurological injury, the natural conclusion would be to study the drug and develop a medication that could help prevent terrible effects of concussions and CTE. That being said, the barriers to begin this sort of endeavor — research that nevertheless could save the game of football — are high (no pun intended). Perhaps most obviously, the biggest issue is one of funding....

If the league were to finance this research, they would face an avalanche of cries of hypocrisy, as the league has a strict no-drug policy. Realistically, the program is often taken as seriously by its players as the league’s selection of the policy’s mandated testing date of April 20th (the unofficial holiday of recreational users of Marijuana).... Quite notoriously, players simply pass the annual test and continue to use the drug therapeutically for injuries during the season. Medical Marijuana is legal in 23 states, recreational use is legal in three states, and the drug has been decriminalized in many of the United States’major cities, yet the drug remains “illegal”for use by players.

Although the initial publicity for the NFL might be negative, the potential impact reaching into future generations is tremendous. Not only would the league attempt to cure a major medical question that plagues modern sports, but it could potentially set a precedent for major corporations to push Marijuana research forward to fully discover the drug’s potential. The looseness of the NFL’s current Marijuana policy, as well as Commissioner Goodell’s recent statement that the league is willing to support research into Marijuana’s medical uses specific to football, suggest that this partnership is a more than viable option.

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

October 18, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Is it time to legalize marijuana in sports?"

Images (7)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this very lengthy San Diego Union-Tribune article spotlighting the arguments being made by a former NFL players about the relative advantages of marijuana as a means of pain relief.   Here are excerpts:

Kyle Turley's decade-long NFL career left the former San Diego State All-American offensive tackle with a multitude of health issues. Turley’s football injuries broke his body, but he’s also convinced that football did irreparable damage to his brain. He’s struggled with anxiety, headaches, depression and rage issues. In an interview with the Union-Tribune in 2013, he even admitted to having entertained suicide.

To help him deal with his ailments, Turley’s doctors have prescribed a multitude of painkillers, psych meds and muscle relaxants over the years. Depakote. Wellbutrin. Zoloft. Flexeril. Percocet. Vicodin. Toradol. Vioxx.

You don’t need to know what each of these drugs is designed to do. The point is that dating back to when he blew out his knee at SDSU in 1996, Turley has been on them all at some point, often in different prescribed combinations, over a period that spans almost 20 years.

That ended in February when Turley decided to free himself of all prescription medications and use only marijuana – a move he credits with saving his life.

The sports world appears to be waiting to see what happens politically in regard to marijuana, with the movement to legalize it gaining steam in the United States. 23 states have now legalized marijuana in some form, with four of those (Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado) allowing for outright recreational use for adults aged 21 and older.

The drug is still illegal in all the major pro sports leagues and very restricted at the NCAA level. In the meantime, there’s a growing segment of athletes who believe the health benefits to be gained from the marijuana plant outweigh the risks – especially when compared to the opioids they’ve long been prescribed.

Experts in the field of pain medicine agree that everything is coming to a head. “We have 100 million Americans in chronic pain. We don’t have good, strong and safe therapies. We have a crisis with pain and opioids in this country,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “We need to find better treatments for athletes and non-athletes, and cannabinoids may by one way.”...

A 1997 New York Times story estimated that “60 to 70 percent” of NBA players smoked marijuana, though this pre-dated the medicinal marijuana wave of the 2000s, and it appears that marijuana was used mostly as a recreational drug.

Around the turn of the decade, evidence suggests more athletes started using marijuana more to help manage pain from injuries, especially in the NFL. Running back Jamal Anderson, who played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1994 to 2001 recently told Bleacher Report that during his career about “40 to 50 percent of the league” used marijuana. San Diegan Ricky Williams, who played for the Saints, Dolphins and Ravens from 1999 to 2011, has also publicly talked about using marijuana during his career to help control pain and stress.

The focus on the issue sharpens when you consider that the NFL currently faces a lawsuit filed in May by a group of former players who allege that all 32 teams liberally dispensed large quantities of painkillers to injured players in a “conspiracy” to keep them on the field without fully educating them on the risks these medications present.

Anderson, Williams, Turley and former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson are now part of a growing number of former players who believe that marijuana is a safer way to help athletes deal with pain. “It’s natural for football players to lean toward marijuana to deal with the violence and trauma of the game,” said Jackson, 36, who played for the Broncos from 2003-08, and who estimates that up to half his team might have used marijuana. “Teams will prescribe you bottles and injections that are really bad for you. Cannabis was what my teammates and I preferred.

“It was a supplement/recovery for me. (Opioids or marijuana), it was never a dilemma. It was a physical reaction to substances that I assessed after trying both and realizing that marijuana was better for my mind and body. I don’t like taking pills. They make me feel slow, sluggish and heavy.”...

The NFL only tests for marijuana between April and August, so it’s not difficult for players who use cannabis to work around that and stay under the radar while ensuring they pass the drug screening. Turley also used marijuana regularly when he played in the NFL because he said it helped him deal with some of his health issues – anxiety, sleeplessness and depression among them. Now, he’s returned to marijuana as a way to manage his ailments in his post-NFL life.

With California’s liberal medical marijuana policies, access to marijuana was one of the reasons Turley uprooted his family from Nashville, Tenn. back to his hometown of Riverside last April. Since weaning himself off all prescription drugs three months ago and transitioning solely to medicinal marijuana, Turley has noticed a “night and day difference in his psyche.” He no longer suffers from low testosterone, his libido is back, and his anxiety issues have improved.

“I don’t have as bad depression any more, that’s getting better. The cognitive impairment seems to be getting a little bit better. Life is more manageable, I have more energy and feel more alive,” Turley said. “I don’t think about killing myself any more. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies were part of my daily living. At the end of the day, I was losing hope with the synthetic drugs and now I feel better. It’s giving me hope again, helping with depression and anxiety.”

Some athletes also tout marijuana for its value as a neuro-protectant though scientific studies on the subject are still very preliminary. Some studies of the drug have found just the opposite – that it can actually lead to suicidal thoughts in some users. Like many medical issues, the anecdotes from true believers is increasingly at odds with the clinical evidence, stoking emotions on both sides.

More research could prove valuable for athletes looking for answers outside established medical practices that they have come to distrust – especially NFL players who have in the last five years become much more aware of how concussions and head trauma sustained during their football careers can cause long term brain damage or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – the progressive, degenerative brain disease that results from multiple sub-concussive blows to the head.

Turley has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and has had his brain scanned for damage. Scans yielded a “big blurred area that doctors are concerned about,” Turley said. Put together the results of the scans, his memory issues, depression and anxiety problems, and Turley believes he has CTE. Turley also thinks marijuana might be helping his brain to heal. “I believe that the answer lies in marijuana and I’m on that search to figure that out. … With marijuana I saw some pretty amazing things and how it can deal with brain injury and this disease I have,” Turley said. “From memory to function, there are some wonders in this medicine.

Yet, for all his praises of marijuana, even Turley admits that in terms of its properties as a medicine, it’s still very much an untested commodity. While he has no medical or scientific credentials, he is passionate about the subject and is anxious to learn more. “There’s no real science behind this yet,” Turley said. “I’m really looking forward to expanding on my experience with it now that it’s giving me relief.

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

August 3, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Considering marijuana law and reform through the lens of the sports industry

As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s). This week a student is scheduled to discuss marijuana regulation in the sports industry, and here are some stories she has suggested reviewing on the topic:

"Athletes and Pot: Legalized marijuana in a league of its own"

"Study: NFL Players Misuse Painkillers"

"Suspensions to Oregon players bring NCAA marijuana policy into question"

"Get High, Train Harder"

April 23, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Does nearly every NFL player really have a "certifiable need for medical marijuana"?

Jackson1The question in the title of this post is prompted by the very first sentence of this provocative recent New York Times op-ed authored by former NFL player Nate Jackson.   Here are excerpts from a piece headlined "The N.F.L.’s Absurd Marijuana Policy":

Virtually every single player in the N.F.L. has a certifiable need for medical marijuana.

The game we celebrate creates a life of daily pain for those who play it.  Some players choose marijuana to manage this pain, which allows them to perform at a high level without sacrificing their bodies or their minds.

I medicated with marijuana for most of my career as a tight end from 2003 through 2008. And I needed the medication.  I broke my tibia, dislocated my shoulder, separated both shoulders, tore my groin off the bone once and my hamstring off the bone twice, broke fingers and ribs, tore my medial collateral ligament, suffered brain trauma, etc.  Most players have similar medical charts.  And every one of them needs the medicine.

Standard pain management in the N.F.L. is pain pills and pregame injections. But not all players favor the pill and needle approach.  In my experience, many prefer marijuana.  The attitude toward weed in the locker room mirrors the attitude in America at large.  It’s not a big deal.  Players have been familiar with it since adolescence, and those who use it do so to offset the brutality of the game.  The fact that they made it to the N.F.L. at all means that their marijuana use is under control.

Had marijuana become a problem for me, it would have been reflected in my job performance, and I would have been cut.  I took my job seriously and would not have allowed that to happen.  The point is, marijuana and excellence on the playing field are not mutually exclusive....

Nearly 17,000 Americans overdosed and died from prescription painkillers in 2011, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These are the same pills I was handed in full bottles after an injury.  The same pills that are ravaging our cities.  The same ones that are creating a population of apathetic adults, pill-popping their way through the day and dead behind the eyes. The same ones that are leading high schoolers to heroin because the pills no longer get them high and are too expensive. Yeah, those....

In my playing days, the marijuana smokers struck me as sharper, more thoughtful and more likely to challenge authority than the nonsmokers.  It makes me wonder if we weren’t that way because marijuana allowed us to avoid the heavy daze of pain pills.  It gave us clarity.  It kept us sane....

Professional football is a violent trade that could use some forward thinking.  The N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association, which agreed to the league’s substance abuse policy in collective bargaining, should rethink their approach.  The policy reflects outdated views on marijuana and pain management, punishes players who seek an alternative to painkillers, keeps them in a perpetual state of injury and injury management, and risks creating new addicts.

September 10, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The notable (new?) reality of tokers and NFL tailgating in Denver

Regular readers of this blog may surmise that I think (as do perhaps some other blog contributors) that the ways in which the National Football League formally and informally deals with marijuana issues in the months and years ahead could play a huge role in how much of the nation formally and informally deals with marijuana issues.  Consequently, I found notable this new New York Times piece by Michael Powell, headlined "Football’s in the Air, and in Denver, So Is the Sweet Smell of Herb: Marijuana Seeps Into Tailgating Rituals at Mile High in Colorado." Here is an excerpt:

I’m standing in a parking lot overlooking the stadium known prosaically as Sports Authority and poetically as Mile High.  That handle is metaphorically apt, too, as I’m engaged in the all-American sport of tailgating, with Corey and the Wookie and four friends....

The tall, red-bearded professional chef with excellent shades who insists his friends know him as the Wookie fires up the pipe and, amid clouds, talks legalized weed and the world that has followed on its heels.  “Why do you think Peyton Manning invested in pizza places after legalization? Boom! Stoners love pizza.”...

Herbaceous tailgating, truth be told, is in its infancy.  The Mile High Cannabis dispensary stands across the street from the stadium, and watching its game-day traffic of orange-clad customers calls to mind the week leading up to Christmas. “We’re glad to do our part in getting people amped for the game,” says budtender Erin Catalano....

But the Broncos, following in the prim footsteps of the N.F.L., have taken a position of sniffy disapproval.  Go to the team’s website under the heading of marijuana. “Any form of marijuana consumption,” it says, “is prohibited on Sports Authority Field at Mile High property during public events, including in stadium parking lots.”  That goes for edibles; you must leave the gummy bears at home.

The N.F.L. insists it is enforcing Colorado law.  Whatever.  The Colorado Symphony has taken a laid-back path of no resistance whatsoever.  It has “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series.” (This is not to argue that all has gone well with legalization. Meth heads have embraced the herb and hash oil explosions have become a clear and present danger in Colorado, proving that stupidity grows apace with social change.)

Less comprehensible is why the N.F.L., that most gladiatorial of our major sports, continues to embrace reefer madness.  It tests for pot in infinitesimal quantities and suspends repeat offenders for entire seasons....

A linebacker in Colorado can limp into the locker room with dislocated fingers, twisted ligaments and bruises like leprosy splotches.  He will get legally shot up and prescribed various and many opiates.  Or he can grab a 12-pack of the N.F.L.’s official beer and drink himself into sweet oblivion.  But if he goes home and dips into his legal stash of cannabis indica and dozes off in front of his television?  He is a threat to American sport, not to mention that one-armed bandit of an industry known as the N.F.L.  The players union is trying to force the league to negotiate a more sane policy on marijuana as part of a new drug testing program.

Colorado fans, let it be said, do not put herb in your face.  No one gets gnarly....  The fans insist that pot leaves them mellower.  They get their orange jerseys and scream fiercely and all that.  But this isn’t New York or Philadelphia.  Fighting is extremely unchill.

My colleague Ken Belson was in Seattle on Thursday for the Seahawks’ opener. Parking spots there go for $80 a pop, which is a buzz kill itself. And cops enforce the same sanctions against public consumption of weed.  That said, he reported that stoners tended to persevere.  The sweet smell of herb mixed with the tang of organic, grass-fed, much-loved cows as they became burgers on the grill.  After the game, he shared a Trickster IPA or three, and he reported having to first sweep a few grams of loose buds off his table.

As the title of this post suggests, I would be surprised to learn that use of marijuana at some tailgating locales is truly a new reality. But prominent articles about marijuana tailgating in the New York Times surely is.

Some prior NFL related posts:

September 8, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article. Alex has done a terrific job on this blog keeping track of the intersection of America's favorite sport and America's favorite prohibited substance, and this AP article help highlight how dynamic that intersection can be. Here are excerpts:

Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it's not simply because more players are using it. As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana's possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.

"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"

One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game....

There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common. Redskins offensive lineman Ryan Clark didn't want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, "I know a lot of guys who don't regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season."...

Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006. "They are leaning on it to cope with the pain," said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. "They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game."

The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts — concussions and painkillers — both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.

The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others. "Different medicines work differently from person to person," Vandrey said. "There's pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it's a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated."...

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season's Super Bowl he said the league would "follow the medicine" and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.

A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing....

The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league's priorities are out of whack.

In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions. "As much as I love to watch professional football, I'm beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions," Grinspoon said. "I don't want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn't give them any recourse to try to protect themselves."

The league does, in fact, fund sports-health research at the NIH, to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it's conducted and, as Vandrey says, "the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research."

August 14, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leafly and Americans for Safe Access team up on NFL ads

With the NFL's new season kicking off in just a few weeks, Leafly and Americans for Safe Access have partnered on a new ad campaign on football, chronic pain, and medical marijuana.  Last season, the topic generated a good deal of interest in the sports media, as both Super Bowl teams hailed from marijuana legalization states and HBO's Real Sports ran a story on how some players use medical marijuana as an alternative to opiate-based pain killers.

The Leafly/ASA ad campaign aims to keep this conversation going and kicked off with a spot in the USA Today's NFL Special Edition.  

ASA_USA_Today_NFL_Preview_Ad

 

August 14, 2014 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

New op-ed on marijuana and the NFL cites Friday's vote to defund medical marijuana raids

One of my favorite sports journalists Jason La Canfora has this editorial out today calling for the NFL to reconsider its stance on medical marijuana.  Of particularly interest to me, La Canfora cites Friday's vote in the House as a sign that the NFL is behind the times on this issue.  

The times, they are a changin'-- no matter which side of this issue you are on, and on Friday alone the House passed an amendment restricting the DEA from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal; a bill that was backed by bipartisan support.

La Canfora highlights one of the reasons why the House vote is such an important political development.  Medical marijuana reform is now--in a very real and concrete way--an issue with bipartisan support in Congress.  And I think this changes perceptions when it comes to the prospect of changing federal law and the status quo on enforcement practices.  It begins to turn the tables politically as far as which side of the issue is perceived as the mainstream and which side is perceived as out-of-touch.  

Despite all of the polling and state-level reforms, support for medical marijuana has been seen as out-of-the-mainstream in DC.  It was an issue that might get a coalition of very progressive Democrats and very-libertarian-leaning Republicans to muster 160 votes in the House.  But that was about it.  And, as a result, there was a sense that a politician who supported medical marijuana was taking a "far-left" (e.g., Barney Frank) or "far-right" (e.g., Ron Paul) position.  But now, supporting reform means you're siding with the majority of a bipartisan group in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

I think Friday's vote also has real implications for how this issue will be perceived in the 2016 presidential race.  In the past, candidates who opposed federal interference with state medical marijuana laws did so tepidly and the position was seen as a bit risky--something you didn't want to talk about if you could avoid it (see, e.g., President Obama.)  This vote makes me think it is even more likely that, in 2016, candidates who don't support marijuana law reform (at least to some degree) will be the ones on the defensive.  To be sure, this shift did not start with Friday's vote, but I think it will be seen as one of the most significant milestones in the journey.  

And, returning to La Canfora's article, the changing politics of marijuana may have implications for the NFL as well.  Here's the start of his excellent piece:

Enough with the NFL's Reefer Madness already. It needs to stop.

 

I fully realize that nothing of significance changes in this league without a fight between the league and its union, but the fact that lighting up a joint is dealt with in a draconian fashion, while domestic abuse punishment is often meted out in a far-less severe manner, is just one of many incongruous corollaries to the NFL's weed policy.

 

At a time when the government's approach to pot is taking a dramatic turn, and the drug is being increasingly legalized to some degree or another in state after state, for young stars in their prime like the Browns' Josh Gordon and the Cardinals' Daryl Washington to both be potentially missing all of next season, if not longer, for using marijuana, is ludicrous (now, if you want to kick Washington out of the league for 2014 for other transgressions, you won't get an argument out of me).

 

This is getting ridiculous.

June 2, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More on the NFL's marijuana testing plans

Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk has an interesting take on the news that the NFL is thinking of scaling back the punishment for players who test positive for marijuana.  Florio sees the news as a ploy to try and get the Players Association to strick a deal on HGH testing.  Perhaps most interesting, he argues that the players should use their leverage on HGH testing to demand the elimination of marijuana testing altogether:

Given that Commissioner Roger Goodell made a public push last week to finalize HGH testing, it’s not a stretch to believe that the source who leaked this new information about marijuana testing and discipline to ESPN.com wants the players to know that, if they merely agree to let Commissioner Goodell handle appeals of violations of the performance-enhancing drug policy that arise from something other than a positive test, marijuana will suddenly become less of a problem for players.

 

And if enough players figure this out and begin pushing the NFLPA to take that deal, the impasse regarding HGH testing may finally be broken.

 

It’s the right idea by the NFL, but it doesn’t go far enough.  Why not simply abandon marijuana testing, and punish only those players who are arrested and convicted of a marijuana-related violation?  It’s not a performance-enhancing substance (otherwise, it would fall under the steroids policy).  Why does the NFL continue to feel compelled to regulate what a player does on his own time away from work — and why does the NFLPA continue to let it happen?

 

Maybe the NFL wants HGH testing badly enough to drop the general ban on marijuana.  Because marijuana use does nothing to undermine the integrity of the game but HGH does, it should be a no-brainer.

May 14, 2014 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

NFL reportedly plans to decrease punishments for marijuana use

Via ESPN, the NFL may be getting ready to decrease penalties for players who test positive for marijuana while also increasing the threshold for triggering a positive test:

It would be too late to help Josh GordonWill Hill or anyone else in danger of lengthy suspensions for violations of current rules. But when and if the NFL's new drug policy is finalized and announced, it will include changes specific to marijuana and other drugs of abuse.

A source told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the renegotiation of the drug policy, which has been going on since 2011 and includes testing for HGH, also will significantly increase the threshold for a positive marijuana test and reduce the punishments for violations involving that drug.

As alluded to in the article, the news comes just a few days after it was reported that Brown's receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for marijuana use.  (The Josh Gordon story generated an interesting discussion of marijuana use and the NFL on Pardon the Interruption yesterday (the segment begins at 11 minutes 30 seconds into the linked clip.)) 

On a related note, some readers may remember news coverage a few months ago of NFL players who use marijuana for pain relief, preferring it to more addictive pain killers.  Though the league's new policy would not directly address the medical use of marijuana among players, it may be a nod to that trend.  It will be interesting to see more about the policy--particularly what threshold the NFL sets for a positive test--if/when the details are released.

May 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Should the NFL fund medical marijuana studies?

ProFootballTalk continues its coverage of medical marijuana use and the NFL.  The latest: Harvard Professor (emeritus) and longtime medical marijuana advocate, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, has penned an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the NFL to fund studies on whether marijuana might help treat brain injuries (CTE).  

“The extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment,” Dr. Lester Grinspoon wrote in an open letter to Goodell, via LeafScience.com.  “[I]t’s highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company will get involved in studying cannabis as a treatment for CTE, because the plant [and its natural components] can’t be patented.”

 

...

 

Grinspoon’s letter speaks to the fundamental question of whether the NFL will sit and wait for someone else to figure out whether medical marijuana can help treat or prevent CTE, or whether the NFL is sufficiently committed to the health of players to fully explore this and any other possibility.

 

Here’s hoping the league adopts the spirit of Dr. Grinspoon’s letter, objectively assessing any possible treatment for CTE and spending money as warranted to explore potential vehicles for helping players reverse or prevent its development.

I think Mike Florio's (of ProFootballTalk) comments at the end of the post (and his continued interest in this story) may be as noteworthy as Grinspoon's letter, at least as far as the future of medical marijuana and the NFL.  Florio is among the most prominent NFL reporters right now.  His blog is part of the NBC network and he appears on NBC's flagship Sunday Night Football program.  If Florio continues covering the story of medical marijuana and the NFL the way he has, I think it will go a long way in terms of keeping it in the mind of football fans (and the league.)  

March 6, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Another NFL player speaks out on marijuana for pain relief

Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark talked in some detail yesterday about marijuana use in the NFL on ESPN's First Take.  First Take's hosts are (in my opinion) among the most annoying on ESPN and this segment is a good example of their grating personalities. But Clark's comments are well worth checking out.  

In particular, he emphasizes that many players use marijuana as an alternative to more addictive and harmful pain medications.  I think that this is a very powerful concept--both as a matter of politics and policy--that has not made its way into the public consciousness the way marijuana use by cancer patients has, for example.  

Most people immediately grasp the dangers that conventional pain medications carry.  And, because pain is largely in the eye of the person suffering from it (testing for pain is not like taking a person's temperature or giving them an x-ray), I think it is very difficult to discount self-reports from people who say it helps them.  The more that athletes speak out about this, I think the more average folks will accept (with good reason in my view) that marijuana can be used to treat pain and that it might be a better option than other medications.  

Here's Clark on the subject:

Clark, a 12-year veteran, discussed the topic of marijuana use and the league's testing system Thursday morning on ESPN's "First Take."

 

"I know guys on my team who smoke," Clark said. "And it's not a situation where you think, 'Oh, these are guys trying to be cool.' These are guys who want to do it recreationally.

 

"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."

 

February 7, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

NFL player on marijuana use "we're just going to do it anyway"

The Super Bowl may be behind us, but the question of marijuana use by NFL players is not.  The latest, Jets Player Antonio Cromartie says he thinks it is time for the NFL to let the issue go:

Cromartie said in an interview with Thisis50.com, a website launched by rapper 50 Cent, that he thinks the NFL should take marijuana off the banned substances list.

 

“They need to just let it go,” Cromartie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We’re just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.’ “

Cromartie may be a free agent this off-season.  It will be interesting to see if this impacts interest in him among NFL teams (and, in the nearer team, whether his agent or some Jets media rep will encourage Cromartie to retract or "clarify" his comments.)

February 5, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lots and lots of Super Sunday stories about marijuana and the Super Bowl

Bm3As is now common, this past week brought a lot of interesting new stories and commentary in the traditional and new media about new  marijuana laws and practices throughout the United States.  But, with the biggest annual US sporting event now only a few hours away, I figured I should focus my regular round-up of interesting marijuana news and commentary on matters related to the Super Bowl:

  • From the AP here, "THC-Hawks? Pot Puns Pack This Super Bowl" 

  • From the Baltimore Sun here, "Ayanbadejo says teammates on one of his Super Bowl teams used marijuana week of game"

  • From BuzzFeed here, "17 Marijuana Snacks To Eat During The Stoner Bowl, AKA the Bud Bowl, aka Super Bowl XLVIII."

  • From the Denver Business Journal here, "Pot, Super Bowl don’t mix for most people, poll finds"

  • From Forbes here, "Dueling Pot Billboards At The Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer Vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life"

  • From a local Seattle Fox station here, "From marijuana to sushi, businesses are riding the Super Bowl frenzy"
  • From Rolling Stone here, "Which Super Bowl Team's State Is Better for Weed? Comparing the legal marijuana laws for Broncos and Seahawks fans"

  • From the Seattle Times here, "Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch inspires Beast Mode pot"
  •  From Time here , "Pot Will See Sales Spike For Super Bowl, Just Like Pizza

  • From the Washington Post here, "The Super Bowl is the latest front in the fight over legalizing marijuana"

Some recent related posts:

February 2, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)