Monday, June 2, 2014
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.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
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.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
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 Gordon, Will 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.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
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.)
Friday, February 7, 2014
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."
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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.)
Sunday, February 2, 2014
As 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:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- "Football, Pain and Marijuana"
- NFL not yet actively considering marijuana policy change
Friday, January 31, 2014
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, the medical use of marijuana in the NFL has been getting a lot of attention. A couple of weeks ago, league commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL was open to the possibility of permitting its players to use marijuana for medical purposes (such as pain relief). Today, ProFootballTalk reports that while the league is open to the idea, Goodell has clarified it is "not actively considering" changing its marijuana policy.
Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson is also a supporter [of medical marijuana in the NFL], a view which may be informed by his experiences this season. Robinson suffered from kidney and liver failure due to a bad reaction to a prescription anti-inflammatory, missed much of the season while recovering and thinks that looking into alternative treatment options is a must for the league and the players.
“I think anything that can make our job a little easier without sacrificing our health at the same time is good for the league, it’s good for players,” Robinson said. “I’m all for alternative forms of recovery and all those types of things – hyperbaric chambers, o-zoning, whatever it may be. So, I’m all for it. Whatever can help the player, I’m for.”
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, in which it so happens both teams hail from states that recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, pressure is mounting on the [NFL] to reconsider its ban. A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, the group says, is less harmful than alcohol.
It’s a fair question. Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, for starters, and more than 20 states have legalized it for medical purposes. The league would merely be catching up to contemporary practice by creating a medical exception.
At a news conference on Jan. 7, the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, did not rule out a change in policy. “I don’t know what’s going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries,” he said, “but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine.” On Jan. 23, he said the league would “follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that.” There is, in fact, a body of evidence indicating a “proper usage”: one of particular relevance to a hard-hitting, injury-riddled sport.
“Cannabinoids,” the Institute of Medicine reported in 1999, “can have a substantial analgesic effect.” N.F.L. medical experts obviously aren’t convinced, but N.F.L. players seem to be. HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” estimated in January that 50 to 60 percent of players smoked marijuana, many to manage pain.
Players, of course, have access to other painkillers, including prescription drugs. Yet as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has argued, “marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” As public opinion and state laws move away from strict prohibition, it’s reasonable for the N.F.L. to do the same and let its players deal with their injuries as they — and their private doctors — see fit.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times piece, which includes these passages:
The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main groups behind the push to legalize marijuana possession in Colorado, posted advertisements on billboards near Mile High Stadium before the first game of the Broncos’ season on Sept. 5.
Now the group has spent $5,000 to rent several 60-foot-wide billboards in New Jersey, within easy driving distance of MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday....
The message is directed at the National Football League, just as it was in Denver, and is repeated in a petition the marijuana group plans to deliver to the N.F.L. on Wednesday. “Why are players punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?” asked Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the group. “In Colorado and Washington State, this is now a legal product, and the N.F.L. has no legitimate reason to be policing marijuana use by players.”...
N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, indicated last week that the league might reconsider its policy on marijuana for medicinal purposes, if research showed that it was a viable treatment for concussions.
There is also a lighter side to the discussion of marijuana and the Super Bowl. There have been many jokes about how Super Bowl XLVIII will be the “stoner bowl” because the Broncos and the Seahawks are from the two states that have moved to legalize marijuana. Bryan Weinman said that was the instigation for the website www.stonerbowl.org.
“It got hatched over a table of beers before the playoff games,” said Mr. Weinman, who has been a nightclub D.J. in Denver. He added that he and several friends “got to joking about what happens if Denver and Seattle ended up in the S.B., how many endless puns would be made by the average individual.”
“We got the easy ones out of the way,” he continued, “and it evolved into somebody saying, ‘What would happen if we put some of this on a T-shirt?' ” And no, he said, they are not marijuana users themselves.
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
Friday, January 24, 2014
Following this week's excellent HBO Real Sport's piece on the use of medical marijuana by NFL players (if you haven't seen it and have access to HBO On Demand, I definitely recommend it), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked again about the league's marijuana policy.
ProFootballTalk provides the details:
At a press conference to announce the first winners of the “Head Health Challenge” aimed at finding innovative techniques for treating and/or preventing brain injuries, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that, if marijuana can be proven to help players recover from concussions, the league could change its position.
“I’m not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” Goodell said, via USA Today. “Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”
In a recent interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, NFL senior V.P. of labor law and policy Adolpho Birch told Andrea Kremer that the league would look at anything that could help its players. An Isreali doctor has found via research on mice that marijuana can help in the recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
Many players already believe that marijuana helps manage pain, and they smoke it even though the league says they can’t. For players not already in the substance-abuse program, there’s no chance of testing positive after the annual test to which every player is subjected during the offseason, in a window that opens (coincidentally) on 4/20.
If the federal government ever changes its position regarding marijuana, the NFL may have no choice but to revise its position. The policy as written prohibits the “illegal use” of marijuana; if it’s ever fully legal in jurisdictions like Washington and Colorado, the league won’t have any way to take action against players who live or work there.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
As a bay area sports fan, I'll be rooting for the 49ers and against a marijuana bowl this afternoon. But, marijuana bowl or no, it looks like we may be seeing more in the news about marijuana use in the NFL this coming week. Via ProFootballTalk, HBO's Real Sports will be airing a segment on marijuana us in the NFL this Tuesday. The segment will report that many NFL players prefer using marijuana to conventional pain medications for pain management:
But what about the players who don’t want to use prescription medication, given the potential for addiction and side effects?
“I wouldn’t know . . . how to respond to them other than to say that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have made a determination that marijuana is not a substance for which the exemptions for that type of use would be permitted,” Birch says.
Plenty of players don’t care. Former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, who smoked marijuana while playing for pain-management purposes, estimates that “maybe half” of the league’s players use marijuana. (Former NFL tackle Lomas Brown previously has pegged marijuana use by the league’s players at 50 percent.)
“For me personally, very viable,” Jackson tells Kremer regarding the benefits of marijuana. “I prefer it. Marijuana was something that helped me, as the season wore on, my body would start to break down. I was in a lot of pain.”
If marijuana is an effective pain medication (and there's good reason to think that it is), its hard to imagine that it wouldn't be a next public health positive for patients to use it in place of opiate-based medicines. Pain is a tricky thing to treat and surely marijuana would not be effective for plenty of patients.
But for those who find it is effective (a group which may include many NFL players from the sound of this story), why not let them use it? Pain is more subjective than most medical problems. To know if a broken bone is healed, you'll go to your doctor for an x-ray. But to know if pain medication is working, physicians have to rely on what the patient says about how much pain they are experiencing. So if a patient reports that marijuana effectively treats their pain, what additional evidence do we need to know that it's working?
Here's a short clip from the HBO special:
Saturday, January 18, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this amusing, though still serious, new piece from Fox Sports, which picks up on some of the themes I mentioned in this prior post. Here are excerpts:
If all goes as oddsmakers have predicted, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will win the conference championship games on Sunday and gear up for what will be a Super Bowl for the ages. Not because of the talents that will be going head to head, but the first ever Marijuana Bowl? That's something you don't hear every day. These two teams represent the major cities in Colorado and Washington, the only states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that if this ends up being the matchup for the Super Bowl, it will be featuring "the two most pro-cannabis-legalization cities in the US." He joked that the game should be renamed "The Super Oobie Doobie Bowl."
The legalization hasn't been a free-for-all among everyone though. When Jan. 1 came around and Colorado opened its pot shops, it was legal to buy and use the drug on the state level. However, it is still illegal for NFL players who live in the state to use marijuana because it violates the drug policy under the current collective bargaining agreement. The same will go for Washington when their pot doors open this spring.
The NFL is getting pressured by lobbyists to stop penalizing players for smoking pot, saying it could be helpful for getting through concussions and other injuries. The lobbyists are also calling attention to the fact the league is fond of the alcohol industry, such as their relationship with Anheuser-Busch. They pitch Bud Light as the "proud sponsor of the NFL" and even had some ads in rotation showing Budweiser and Bud Light bottles going head-to-head in what they called a "Bud Bowl" game.
Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the pro legalization Marijuana Policy Project in Denver thinks there are more important topics to be discussed instead of getting drowned out in all the beer ads. "Hopefully there will be a break in the beer commercials for some discussion about marijuana laws," he said.
A 48-foot-wide billboard was put up in September by the organization next to Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, insisting that the NFL needs to "stop driving players to drink" and the "safer choice" for athletes was actually pot. A petition was launched by the group in efforts to get NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to change the league's marijuana policy.
Steve Fox, who works for a marijuana-industry law firm in Denver, wonders since the National Hockey League only tests for performing-enhancing drugs, why can't the NFL do the same? He could have a point since marijuana is not a drug that gives any player a physical edge. "It won't be long before it's unique to have two teams in the Super Bowl that haven't made marijuana legal," Tvert said.
For the states where marijuana is outlawed completely, they've actually had a difficult time in the postseason. The Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals all come from states that have not decriminalized pot. Go figure. "If you noticed, the more marijuana-friendly localities really kicked butt," Fox said. "I don't know what it really means in the grand scheme of things, but it's a nice bit of karma if nothing else."
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
As reported in this new article, headlined "NFL might legalize medical marijuana for players," National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has recently suggested the most important sports league in the world is open to marijuana reform. Here are the basics:
Speaking to ESPN, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested the sport’s ban on medical marijuana could be lifted in the future if the practice has already been legalized in a player’s state.
"I don't know what's going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries, but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine," he said.
Although multiple teams play in states where medical marijuana is legal – not to mention that Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug outright – use of the substance remains prohibited under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. The 10-year agreement isn’t set to expire until 2021, leaving no opportunity for players to renegotiate the policy in the short term.
As CBS News noted, Goodell’s words are the first time the NFL has commented on marijuana use since Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives legalizing the drug back in 2012. "The NFL's policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades," league spokesman Greg Aiello said at the time. "Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program."
Still, the collective bargaining agreement’s content is not as black and white as the NFL may believe. According to Pro Football Talk, the CBA only bans the “illegal use” of marijuana, meaning a potential gray area exists concerning situations and states where legal/medical marijuana is permitted.
Complicating the situation is that many NFL players suffer from significant pain borne from concussions and brain trauma, the symptoms of which could be eased by marijuana. “Medical marijuana is recommended by doctors for headaches, light-sensitivity, sleeplessness and loss of appetite—all of which happen to be symptoms associated with concussions,” the Nation noted on its blog in 2012. “The idea that the league would deny a player their legal pain relief of choice seems barbaric.”
Echoing this sentiment was ESPN’s Howard Bryant, who argued in December the time has come for the NFL to become the first major sports league to condone the drug’s use as a pain reliever. “This is a league in which the locker room culture still demands that athletes play through [the pain],” Bryant wrote. “And given that marijuana is a legitimate pain reliever -- especially for the migraines that can be a byproduct of head trauma -- and is far less dangerous and potentially addictive than, say, OxyContin, it is almost immoral to deny players the right to use it.”
Writing in a similar vein, Steve Fox authored this op-ed published recently in the Washington Post headlined "The NFL should let its players smoke pot."
Adding some current event intrigue to this story is the interesting coincidence that the final four teams in the NFL playoffs this year all hail from state in which medical or recreational marijuana is legal (California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington). Indeed, both of the big championship games are being played in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and in every playoff matchup the team coming from the state with more liberal legal marijuana policy has beaten a team from a state with a more restrictive policy (including the big upset of the San Diego Chargers beating the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers winning twice on the road).
Am I foolish to suggest maybe teams hailing from states with some kind of legal pot are doing better because the players and their fans are just a bit more mellow going into the playoffs? Dare I start urging marijuana reform in Ohio so that the sad-sack Bengals and long-cursed Cleveland Browns get a better chance to make it to the Super Bowl?