Thursday, May 19, 2022
I am so happy to be able to continue catching up on posting a lot of recently produced papers that are part of the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. To that end, the title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Caroline Rice, a rising 3L at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Here is its abstract:
Although most professional sport leagues amongst the Big Four (National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League) have restrictions on athletes’ use of cannabis, many professional athletes have spoken out about turning to cannabis as relief for the chronic pain caused by playing professional sports. This paper explores how as a result of cannabis being wrongly classified as a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act, professional leagues followed suit restricting cannabis use and leaving athletes with rigid marijuana testing policies and an overuse of prescription painkillers. This paper then analyzes the medicinal benefits of marijuana use for professional athletes, and subsequently argues for further use of cannabis in professional sports in the United States.
Friday, March 4, 2022
As long-time readers know, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar "take over" the second half of my class through presentations on the research topics of their choice. Before their presentations, students are expected to provide in this space some background on their topic and links to some readings or relevant materials. The first of our presentations taking place this week will focus on professional sports and advertising, and here is how my student has described her topic along with background readings she has provided for her classmates (and the rest of us):
For decades, the NFL and other leagues amongst the Big Four professional sport leagues have embraced alcohol, specifically beer, in league and team sponsorships and advertisements. The NFL even has Bud Light as its “Official Beer of the NFL.” Before that, it was tobacco companies who provided the professional sport leagues with millions of dollars in advertising revenue. While tobacco faded out of the sport scene, alcohol emerged and has since held a strong presence despite policymakers’ concerns about promoting and connecting a harmful substance to athletic achievement, on a national stage reaching children.
The professional sport leagues have shied away from letting players use marijuana for any purpose despite its legality in state marketplaces. This has long been a fight for the leagues’ athletes, who want and should be able to have access to cannabis for pain management. But it then comes as no surprise that the leagues have also prevented cannabis advertising from infiltrating the leagues, their teams, and players.
It is with this background, as well as prior research in players’ use of cannabis (stay tuned for its posting to the DEPC Student Paper Series), that I turned to explore another potential connection between marijuana and professional sports — this time through advertising.
This paper and presentation starts out by discussing the long history of alcohol and tobacco advertising in professional sports. It then turns to current federal and state restrictions on marijuana advertising, looking to the legal limitations that leagues must abide by. To make it easier to digest, this section makes connections to existing alcohol and tobacco advertising laws. Subsequently, this paper looks to the current league policies for marijuana advertising, highlighting the NFL’s approach. Finally, this paper looks to the future of marijuana advertising, it’s implications on the sport industry, and makes recommendations for cannabis advertising in professional sports.
For the most part, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that sport industry professionals will have to deal with. While the law provides some guidelines and can help predict league behavior, there are a lot of opportunities available for both leagues, teams, and athletes in this space. Those options are explored in this paper and presentation.
Tobacco and Alcohol
- "Sponsorship of Sport by Tobacco and Alcohol Companies: A Review of the Issues"
- "Alcohol Sponsorships And Athlete Endorsements In Sports"
Cannabis and Sport Leagues
- "Is Now the Time for Sports Leagues to Embrace Sponsorship from Cannabis Brands?"
- "The Super Bowl won’t be lit: no cannabis ads allowed"
Monday, February 7, 2022
The intersection of sports and marijuana reform always intrigues me, and Super Bowl week often takes this story to new heights. And this Adweek piece, headlined "Why This Broccoli Is Fed Up With Cannabis Censorship: Weedmaps, whose Super Bowl ad was rejected, uses 'Brock Ollie' to call out lingering stigmas," spotlights the first amusing headline-making development this week. Here are the basics:
On a typical day for a character named Brock Ollie, he eats breakfast, hails a ride, goes to work and chats with his colleagues. So why does everyone keep bombarding him with clumsy references to getting high?
Because Brock Ollie, with his lanky body and flowery head, is the broccoli emoji come to life, but he’s not just the physical embodiment of a cruciferous superfood. He’s a visual stand-in for cannabis, often used as shorthand between friends or code between sellers and buyers.
But in 2022, when 37 states have now legalized marijuana for medical use or recreational sales, this kind of subterfuge shouldn’t be necessary anymore, according to Weedmaps. The brand created the walking, talking veggie as the star of his own short film to make a point about censorship in cannabis marketing. And executives chose the timing strategically, dropping the 90-second spot today just ahead of Super Bowl 56, a commercial extravaganza it tried — and failed — to buy time in.
“It’s a message we feel is relevant for a national stage,” Chris Beals, CEO of Weedmaps, told Adweek. “It’s just regrettable and sad to not get the ad on network TV.” The rejection strikes Beals as hypocritical, he said, as high-profile spots for regulated categories like alcohol and sports betting are readily accepted during The Big Game, airing Feb. 13 on NBC, and other televised sports events.
An NBC spokesman said the network does not accept ads “for cannabis or cannabis-related businesses” on any of its platforms....
“The answer was a hard no — they wouldn’t even entertain the conversation,” Juanjo Feijoo, Weedmaps COO and CMO, told Adweek. “We see ourselves as trying to be trailblazers in the industry and making new inroads where others haven’t gone before in cannabis advertising. So it was disappointing.”
I have embedded the video here, as I clearly do not have the same standards as NBC:
Thursday, April 30, 2020
As a time with no actual sports, it is nice to have a good excuse to check out ESPN's website where one now finds this very lengthy article sharing the title of this post. The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts (with my emphasis added):
The marijuana stigma that plagued [Ricky] Williams' NFL career is eroding, if not gone entirely from an enforcement standpoint. In January, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Now, of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 50 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (40.6%). Another 51 teams play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (41.5%). That's 82% of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in cities where a player can walk down the street, go into a dispensary, and legally purchase either recreational or medicinal marijuana -- just like they were buying a six pack of beer.
The only states in which any of the four major pro league teams play where there are no broad laws legalizing marijuana are Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Sports leagues have adapted. Last year, we wrote about the NHL's marijuana approach -- predicated on treatment, not punishment -- which at the time was the most progressive in professional sports. Today? It's actually the norm.
The NFL ratified a new CBA in March with a drug policy quite similar to the NHL model. The NFL significantly raised the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminated its previous window of testing, which spanned from April to August to the first two weeks of training camp. In other words, if players want to smoke weed in the offseason, they are free to do so. But most importantly: Players are no longer suspended solely for marijuana. If a player were to test positive, his case is reviewed by a panel of medical experts who determine if the player needs medical treatment. "Certainly, we see that society is changing its views, but views only change because key facts become more and more obvious to the people who make policy," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said.
MLB and its union negotiated a new drug policy in December 2019 following Tyler Skaggs' death. While the new policy added testing for opioids, fentanyl and cocaine, plus synthetic weed -- with positive tests being referred to a treatment board -- cannabinoids were taken off the league's drugs of abuse list. That wasn't a huge deal for MLB players, who were only previously tested for marijuana if there was "reasonable cause." It was, however, monumental for minor leaguers, who were regularly tested and faced steep fines and suspensions -- including a 50-game ban for a first-time offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for the third strike. "The way the league had the rules set up, it was ridiculous," said longtime MLBPA agent Joshua Kusnick. "I can't even imagine how many guys' careers were ruined over marijuana. I personally had clients whose careers were derailed because of it. If you were a fringy prospect and you were popped for marijuana, you were released because teams didn't want to deal with it. And if you were released, you couldn't serve your suspension. So who is going to sign you if you had 50 games to wait?"
The NBA's policy has remained the same -- and is now actually the harshest in North American professional sports. A first positive test means a player must enter the marijuana program. The second positive test calls for a $25,000 fine. The third infraction is a five-game suspension, and five more games are added to each ensuing violation (10 games for a fourth positive test, 15 games for a fifth, etc.). However, the NBA does not test players during the offseason, and the union and league agreed to not test players during the league's coronavirus hiatus.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
As I mentioned in this recent post, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are now "taking over" my class by making presentations on research topics of their choice. The COVID-19 crisis means my resilient students are doing their presenting online, and students are still providing in this space background on their topic and links to some relevant materials before they present. Another coming presentation will focus on sports (remember those?), and here is how my student has described his topic along with background readings he has provided:
For my paper, I will be discussing the intersectionality of Sports and Marijuana. I will primarily focus on athletes, both past and present, being used as a vehicle in leading the charge for reforming marijuana in their respective sports, but also in America. Athletes of past have had influences on a variety of societal issues and inequalities, and I will compare some of the past actions to how athletes of today can affect marijuana. I will also focus on the new agreements in both the MLB and NFL regarding their stance on marijuana, and what impact that will have on the reformation of sports. I will conclude my paper by predicting what the future of sports’ stance will have on the reformation of America. Below are a few links I’ve read over which I will be using in my paper:
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Is rooting for Bengals or Browns a sign of insanity or really just a medical marijuana qualifying condition?
I moved to central Ohio from the east coast in 1997. I had my reasons to start following the Cincinnati Bengals upon first arriving in the Buckeye state (I grew up in Maryland in the 1980s and formed a connection with Boomer Esiason). And I could not help but also be keen on the Cleveland Browns when the team returned to action in 1999. But, fast forward 23 years, and I have not seen either of Ohio's professional football teams even manage to win a single playoff game over this very long period. (Do not feel too bad for me, the OSU Buckeyes have given me plenty of victories to savor.)
Why do I tell this familiar tale of sporting woe in this space. Well, this amusing Cincinnati Enquirer article, headlined "Bengals, Browns seasons got you down? Medical marijuana proposed as treatment," reports on why it is relevant to the work of marijuana reform in the Buckeye state:
Long-suffering Bengals and Browns fans know the pain of defeat — over and over again. At least one person thinks they should be able to treat that misery with medical marijuana.
A petition to make "Bengals/Browns Fans" an official medical marijuana condition was submitted last month to the State Medical Board of Ohio.
Don't get your hopes up: It probably won't go anywhere. The board requires information from experts who specialize in studying the condition, relevant medical or scientific evidence and letters of support from doctors.
The board could not provide more information Monday about the petition, including who submitted it and their argument for why the board should add the "condition."
Last year, more than 100 petitions for new conditions were submitted. Those were winnowed to five: anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, depression, insomnia and opioid use disorder. All five were rejected by the board.
This time around, the board received 28 petitions. The latest batch includes conditions already approved in Ohio, such as chronic pain and PTSD. Petitions were again submitted for the conditions rejected last year. Repeat petitions must include new "scientific information" to be considered again.
Rob Ryan, who heads pro-cannabis coalition Ohio Patient Network, re-submitted a petition for opioid use disorder but he doesn't expect a different outcome. Ryan, who lives in Blue Ash and sometimes roots for the Bengals, didn't have a strong opinion of the football fan condition idea. "Maybe they should sell marijuana as well as beer at the stadium," Ryan said, chuckling. "It might calm the crowd down." But he hopes his proposal has a better shot.
Medical board attorneys will review the petitions to determine whether they meet the minimum requirements, such as including letters from supporting physicians. A medical board committee plans to decide in February which conditions will be reviewed by experts and voted on by the board later this year.
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
"Going Green in American Professional Sports: Why Marijuana Usage Should Be Allowed and What Policy Changes Should Ensue"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Lucian Lungu, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. This paper is the fifteenth paper in an on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. (The fourteen prior papers in this series are linked below.) Here is this latest paper's abstract:
In America, professional sports carry significant importance. This billion-dollar industry is largely controlled by four professional leagues — the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) — together known as “the big four.” Currently, each league has player conduct rules aimed at preventing the use of marijuana. This paper analyzes the marijuana-related policies of each league and goes on to suggest that these regulations must be revised to allow for marijuana usage.
I argue that the historical misconceptions of marijuana; the outdated, illogical reasons for its initial and continued prohibition in sports; the prevalence and positive public sentiment of marijuana in society today; the ineffectiveness of the leagues’ current policies; and the widespread use of life-threatening, team-prescribed drugs in every league require that these policies be updated. Subsequently, I discuss the potential medical benefits of marijuana for athletes. Lastly, based on my analysis, this paper predicts the immediate future of marijuana in the big four and details what I believe should happen in the future.
Prior student papers in this series:
- "The Canna(business) of Higher Education"
- "Marijuana Banking in New York and Around the US: 'Swim at Your Own Risk'"
- "Intellectual Property Survey: Cannabis Plant Types, Methods of Extraction, IP Protection, and One Patent That Could Ruin It All"
- "Marijuana in the Workplace: Distinguishing Between On-Duty and Off-Duty Consumption"
- "An Argument Against Regulating Cannabis Like Alcohol"
- "The State of Marijuana in The Buckeye State and Fiscal Policy Considerations of Legalized Recreational Marijuana"
- "Race Based Statutes at Play with Cannabis: Cultivating a Process for Weeding Out the Competition"
- "Tribal Cannabis: Balancing Tribal Sovereignty and Cooperative Enforcement"
- "Land of the Free, Home of the (Disgruntled) Brave: The Case for Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana"
- "Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Therapeutics Industry"
- "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Why IRC § 280E Is Not the Industry Killer It Is Portrayed to Be"
- "Achieving Diversity in the Marijuana Industry: Should States Implement Social Equity into Their Regimes?"
- "Cannabis Legalization: Dealing with the Black Market"
- "Pop Culture's Influence on Recreational Marijuana Use & Legislation: A Case Study on Snoop Dogg"
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
NFL perhaps ready for new approach to marijuana as it agrees to explore use of drug for pain management
Though he graduated from law school earlier this month, Lucian Lungu, a helpful student from my marijuana seminar this past semester, made sure that I did not miss this week's interest news emerging from the NFL. Indeed, Lucian was kind enough to draft this guest post covering the news with some links:
The National Football League (NFL), widely regarded as the strictest on marijuana among the four major, professional sports leagues, has seemingly began to actually move toward, possibly, implementing a new marijuana policy. On May 20, 2019, the NFL and NFL Players Association released a press release (available here) detailing the formation of two new committees concentrating on pain management and mental health care. The pain management news, as explained below, related to its marijuana policy.
The Joint Pain Management Committee will seemingly attempt to provide a solution for the widespread, dangerous, although legal, use of prescription drugs in the NFL by creating new league-wide regulations as well as a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. (The problematic use of prescription drugs should be a reason in itself for the NFL to soften its marijuana policy.) In addition, this Committee will also engage in pain management and alternative therapy research, which includes “look[ing] at marijuana,” according to Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer. Additionally, every team will have a Pain Management Specialist who will work with players based on their individualized needs.
If a new marijuana policy gets adopted, it will almost certainly occur during negotiations on the next collective bargaining agreement in 2021. Nevertheless, this latest development is a great step forward for a league whose commissioner, just three years ago when asked about the NFL's restrictive policy, state that, “we believe it’s the correct policy, for now …” It looks like the “for now” period has passed, and major changes could be coming to a league in dire need of an adjustment.
Friday, March 15, 2019
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable recent ESPN article that a terrific student of mine made sure I did not miss. Here is how the lengthy piece gets started and an excerpt reviewing the NHL's notable approach to positive drug tests:
Player X is in the NHL. After home games, he has a routine . Typically, he'll meet a few teammates at a local restaurant for a late dinner. He likes to order steak after games -- medium rare, with a side salad and mashed potatoes. Then he'll go home.
Player X sometimes has a hard time unwinding; it was a day of unbounded stimulation. He woke up and arrived at the rink for a morning skate and meetings, went home to nap, returned to the arena for warm-ups (bright lights and eardrum-blasting music), then exerted his body for 20-something sub-one-minute shifts during which he shoves, sprints, reaches, shoots, gets hit and sometimes bleeds on the ice. By the time he gets home at night, he needs something to ease the process of getting to bed. So he'll often reach for his weed pen and take a few hits. "Just to relax," he says. "Honestly, it's the easiest and most natural way for me to fall asleep and be ready for the next day."
Because Player X is on a Western Conference team based in a state in which there are broad laws legalizing marijuana, he knows he's not doing anything wrong. Actually, he's doing what he estimates thousands of others who live in his city do every night as well.
And because he plays in the NHL -- and not, say, the NFL, NBA or MLB -- he knows he won't be punished.
Society's views on marijuana are evolving -- fast. On Oct. 16, Canada became the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. Coupled with results from the midterm elections in the United States, this is the landscape: Of the 31 teams in the NHL, 28 play in states where players have access to legal marijuana, whether it is for medicinal or recreational purposes. That's the highest percentage (90.3) of any of the major four North American pro leagues, but hardly an anomaly.
This might surprise you: Of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 45 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (36.6 percent). Another 56 play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (45.5 percent). That's a whopping 82 percent of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in areas where their employees can legally purchase either medicinal or recreational marijuana....
Dr. Dave Lewis and Dr. Brian Shaw are the physicians who run the NHL and NHLPA's joint Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) Program. If they determine Player X's test features "abnormally high levels" of THC, they flag it. The veil of anonymity is then lifted, and the two doctors will contact Player X. They can recommend he enters the SABH, in which they'll develop an individualized treatment plan for him. Neither the NHL nor NHLPA needs to know that he's in the program.
The league won't punish Player X at all for his test. If he chooses to enter the SABH, Dr. Lewis and Dr. Shaw have the power to levy fines, suspensions or other penalties if conditions are breached. However, the player is not required to enter the program if he doesn't want to.
"The thing that we're really looking for is if there's a guy that has an issue or a problem and he needs help -- that's what we're trying to capture in that program," says longtime NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider, now a senior executive at the NHLPA . "I do think it has worked very well. We have a tremendous amount of faith in the doctors that run the program. Confidentiality in that program is of the utmost importance."
I have long thought it notable (and not a mere coincidence) that the "whitest" major sports league, the NHL, has the most tolerant approach to marijuana and other drugs. This ESPN article does not focus on racial issues, but rather is focused on the possibility that other major sports leagues could be attracted to the treatment-oriented marijuana policies in the NHL. I certainly like that idea, but I am not sure why this kind of public-health approach to marijuana use ought to only benefit elite athletes. We have used punitive models for dealing with drug use and abuse for so long, the idea that a person would not get punished by his employer for a position drug test seem surprising when it should be the norm.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this USA Today story headlined "CBS rejects Super Bowl ad on benefits of medical marijuana." (And if you do not know what prop bets are, here is a primer: "Prop bets popular for Super Bowl, but NFL wants them gone.") Here are excepts from the ad story:
CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad that makes a case for medical marijuana. Acreage Holdings, which is in the cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing business, said it produced a 60-second ad that shows three people suffering from varying health issues who say their lives were made better by use of medical marijuana.
Acreage said its ad agency sent storyboards for the ad to the network and received a return email that said: “CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.”
A CBS spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that under CBS broadcast standards it does not currently accept cannabis-related advertising....
“We’re not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content,” Acreage president George Allen said. “And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country.”...
“One of the hardest parts about this business is the ambiguity that we operate within,” Allen said. “We do the best we can to navigate a complex fabric of state and federal policy, much of which conflicts.”
Allen said the company had not decided whether to run its 60-second ad or a 30-second version when it learned that CBS would not accept any ads for medical marijuana. CBS is charging an average of $5.2 million for a 30-second ad in this year's game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots on Feb. 3.
“It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” said Harris Damashek, Acreage’s chief marketing officer. “We’re not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot.”
An unfinished version of the 60-second ad introduces a Colorado boy who suffers from Dravet syndrome; his mother says her son would have dozens to hundreds of seizures a day and medical marijuana saved his life. A Buffalo man says he was on opioids for 15 years after three back surgeries and that medical marijuana gave him his life back. An Oakland man who lost part of his leg in military service says his pain was unbearable until medical marijuana.
“The time is now,” say words on the screen near the end of the ad. Then the screen shifts and viewers are asked to call on their representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to advocate for change. Fine print at the bottom says the testimonials in the ad come from the experiences of the individuals and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The fine print also says marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and medical use has not been approved in some states....
Acreage expects to post the ad online at some point so people can see it, even if they can’t see it on the Super Bowl. “It’s not quite ready yet,” Damashek said, “but we anticipate and look forward to getting the message out far and wide.”
I have to admit to being a bit suspect of the idea that the Acreage folks were really planning to spend $10 million to run "a public service announcement" during SuperBowl LIII. Dare I speculate that they knew full well that their ad would be rejected, but also knew that simply asking and getting rejected would result in beneficial attention. And I suppose I am now guilty of giving them some of this desired attention (but I am at least asking a fun question along the way).
Speaking of that question, I will answer by foolishly predicting that there will be a marijuana ad during Super Bowl LVI in February 2022.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Noting the enduring challenges for sports leagues with state marijuana reforms in tension with federal prohibition
Regular readers know that I find fascinating the intersections between sports and marijuana reform, but I have not blogged on the subject much lately. This new article, headlined "Leagues being pushed to allow medical marijuana use for pain management," gives me an excuse to return to this topic. Here are excerpts:
Between legalization in states with multiple professional sports franchises (like California), and increasing numbers of studies showing marijuana to be largely benign (and perhaps even beneficial) in comparison to opiates, the tide of public opinion continues to turn. And for now, certain pro sports leagues are getting around the federal prohibition by essentially embracing a wink-and-nod policy.
The National Hockey League doesn’t list cannabis as a banned substance and doesn’t appear to care much about positive cannabis tests. Major League Baseball lists cannabis as a “drug of abuse,” but only tests if there is reasonable cause (and page 40 of the league’s drug policy specifically states that they don’t issue suspensions for a positive test for marijuana) — though, oddly enough, Minor League Baseball does still test and suspend athletes for marijuana use. In addition, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees Olympic policy, has also loosened its standards on what constitutes a positive test, allowing up to 150 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of blood—which essentially means you’d need to be actively high in order to test positive.
But in the NBA and NFL — two leagues in which former players have estimated that more than 80 percent of their peers used marijuana during their careers—there remains a punitive cost. The NFL’s threshold for a positive test is 35 ng/ml; the NBA’s is 15 ng/ml. Repeated infractions, in both leagues, can result in a suspension.
In large part, the NBA’s policy is based on perception: Former commissioner David Stern, in an interview with ex-NBA player and marijuana advocate Al Harrington, said that the league tightened its rules, in part, because “some of our players came to us and said some of these guys are high coming into the game,” and because of the long-held theory (now largely debunked) that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder substances. Stern now believes the league’s collective bargaining agreement should be altered so that players should be allowed to do whatever is legal in their individual state. His successor as commissioner, Adam Silver, has embraced some of the most progressive policies of any major sports league, and has said that he’s open to legalizing medical marijuana (though how that would work in states where marijuana remains illegal is unclear).
And that leaves the NFL, whose players — given the inherently violent nature of their sport — may have the best case of all for embracing medical marijuana. Yet while the NFL has said it’s open to working with its players association on a study of marijuana, it has continued to suspend a number of players for positive drug tests. In a 2017 radio interview, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed concerns that marijuana use “can be negative to the health of our players.” In a way, this isn’t surprising, given the NFL’s overarching cautiousness when it comes to both political and social issues. But that policy will face continued challenges from ex-NFL players like [Eugene] Monroe, who point to mounting evidence that cannabis is a safer alternative to the opiates they took regularly in order to sustain their careers.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The sports website SBNation has this big new series of articles under the banner "Sports in the age of cannabis." Here is how the site sets up its coverage along with links to more than a half-dozen article of note:
We, as a nation, are changing the way we feel about cannabis.
Gone are the days of Reefer Madness, the hysteria of the War on Drugs. As more and more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, we are seeing a new American attitude that views it as much a business opportunity as something to be feared or banned.
These attitudes are making their way into the sporting world as well. Some professional leagues still test for weed, though how eager they are to actually bust athletes is a matter of debate. And athletes are now seriously turning toward cannabis as a pain-management solution — as we learn more about the dangers of opioid abuse, weed appears more and more like a safer option.
While the changing stigmas around cannabis present exciting opportunities for some, it’s not all that simple. We still live in a country where people, too often people of color, are being arrested for selling and using a product that is already making entrepreneurs, in the sporting world and outside of it, tons of money.
We wanted to look at it all, from the mountains of Colorado to the streets of Atlanta, THC and CBD, oils and smoke, and all the rest. This is sports in the age of cannabis.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this recent Leafy article that struck me as both timely and informative. Here is how the extended piece starts and ends:
Whether or not you consider cannabis a performance-enhancing substance, it’s still a no-no for Olympic athletes. Being caught can mean suspension or even the loss of a medal. Just ask Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, who in 1998 was stripped of the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding after his urine tested positive for THC.
Rebagliati eventually got his medal back after pointing out that cannabis at the time wasn’t actually classified as a banned substance. But every year since, cannabinoids have appeared on the official “Prohibited List” put out annually by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sorry, brah.
That’s not to say WADA is especially strict when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the agency’s limits are probably more lenient than your employer’s.
In 2016, we called the Olympic limits on cannabinoids “shockingly reasonable”—and they’ve only gotten more sensible since. Athletes’ urine must contain less than 150 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a cannabis metabolite.
By comparison, workplace drug tests commonly used by private employers in the United States set thresholds between about 15 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL. (Rebagliati, the snowboarder, returned a result of 17.8 ng/mL.) Legal-cannabis states often have per se limits for cannabis DUIs, but those are generally based on concentrations of active THC in whole blood rather than WADA’s test for metabolites in urine, making the limits difficult to compare directly.
WADA’s THC limit used to be just 15 ng/mL, but the agency quietly raised it in 2013. The head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said at the time that the change was “a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter,” adding: “There is a big debate on it.”
How does the limit translate in terms of actual cannabis consumption? That’s hard to say for certain. How long cannabis remains in a person’s system depends consumption habits, genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Athletes, who are generally leaner and more active than average, would likely be able to pass a test sooner than those of us watching from the couch at home....
At the end of the day, Olympic athletes are allowed a fair amount of leeway when it comes to cannabis test results, but they still operate in a world with scant protection for medical use. As more countries move to legalize, perhaps that will change.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The title of this post is one line in the heart of this extended essay, headlined "9 Reasons to End the War on Marijuana," authored by former NBA player Al Harrington at The Players' Tribute. Here are a few excerpts from the piece:
I was never into marijuana when I was in the league, but I tried everything the doctors could prescribe. After my career, when I was around 32, after seeing what cannabis did for my grandma, I tried out cannabidiol, which is the non-psychoactive form of it — you get the anti-inflammatory effects and the pain relief without the THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. I took the cannabidiol (CBD) as a cream or oil that could be rubbed on topically.
And look, I’m not trying to give out medical advice, so I’ll just say this — for me, cannabis changed my experience with pain. It has worked better, with fewer side effects, than anything I’ve gotten from a doctor. To this day, at 37, after 16 years in the NBA and back surgery and all the miles on my body, I’m still playing ball every week in L.A. Meet me out there. Afternoon runs Tuesday and Thursday. You don’t want none of this!
A few years ago I co-founded a business that produces non-psychoactive cannabis as well as THC-based products. Marijuana changed my life with regard to pain. Now it’s my second calling after basketball. And in a way, it all goes back to that day seven years ago in the garage with my grandma.
Being a minority in the cannabis industry has made me realize how rare it still is. That’s why I’m active in the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA). The MCBA is about improving access and empowerment for minorities in the industry. It basically comes down to this: We’re the communities most hurt by the War on Drugs. Now that marijuana is legal in so many parts of the country, we shouldn’t be left without a seat at the table as the industry takes off.
Alcohol abuse and the NBA. You don’t hear a lot about it, but it’s there. It flies under the radar. This is just the reality: NBA players are affected by anxiety and stress. We’re like any other people with a full-time job that involves a lot of emotional and physical ups and downs.
Many NBA players have a few alcoholic drinks a day. I’ve seen the progression to where they’re having more than a few — just to unwind a little bit or relieve some pain. Pretty soon, it’s easy to be doing that after every game. That takes a serious toll. Pain is just part of sports, though. Athletes are going to seek ways to ease that pain.
I won’t say names, but in my 16 years in the league, I knew of at least 10 or 12 players who had their careers cut short due to alcohol. It either affected them physically or mentally, but one way or another, alcohol shortened their careers. No judgment from me, just facts. We all should be honest. It’s well known how liquor can destroy lives. But we’re still out here demonizing cannabis while alcohol is promoted at sporting events? It all starts with some honesty....
It’s my belief that 70-80% of today’s NBA players use marijuana in some form. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t do any formal polls or anything like that. I just played in the league for 16 years, and that’s my opinion.
Due to the NBA’s ban on cannabis, most of the guys are doing it in the offseason. But I really think the number is that high.
Here’s why I’m telling you that. These guys are NBA superstars. It’s not the last dude on the bench who’s on his couch getting high. These are global icons — leaders, teammates, parents, citizens. These are world-class athletes, man. They’ve got pain and stress and anxiety and all the things any human has. The NBA has never been more skilled or more fun to watch.
So you tell me: Is cannabis ruining these athletes’ lives? Or are our laws and ideas behind the times?
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Especially as I am gearing up for my annual football orgy, which it seems others like to call Thanksgiving weekend, I thought it timely to blog this recent Politico article with the headline that serves as the title of this post. Here are excerpts:
During his Hall of Fame career for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jack Ham was renowned as one of the canniest, fastest linebackers ever to play, doling out his share of bruising punishment to opposing ball carriers. These days the man still celebrated as “The Hammer” has a very different relationship with pain: He’s committed to helping people treat it.
Ham is one of a number of Pennsylvania’s pro-athlete aristocracy, including Franco Harris, his former teammate on the Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s, who have quickly embraced medical marijuana as a cure for a scourge that has decimated economically depressed parts of the state: opioid addiction. It’s a cause that has special resonance for pro athletes like Ham because they know many players whose chronic injuries made them dependent on painkillers.
When voters in Pennsylvania approved medical marijuana in 2016, Ham was quick to see both the financial promise of bringing a new industry to moribund coal country but also the therapeutic benefits of letting people manage their pain with a substance that some doctors say is less toxic and less addictive than opiate-based painkillers like Oxycodone....
Ham says he does not use medical marijuana himself, but he is not the only former athlete to tout medical marijuana as a solution to addiction. Former Steelers fullback Franco Harris also signed on to be a spokesman for a company that sought to grow medical marijuana in Braddock, an economically distressed former steel town near Pittsburgh.
“We have a unique opportunity to transform Braddock into a center for state-of-the-art urban agriculture and, at the same time, become a first mover in the United States in researching the efficacy of marijuana in replacing opioids for the long-term management of pain,” Harris said in a press release. Ultimately, that company did not get one of the 12 licenses awarded by the state in the first round. Medical marijuana, which is now legal in 29 states, has many constituencies—cancer patients who appreciate how it tamps down nausea from chemotherapy; libertarians who favor decriminalization of drugs generally, among them. But athletes are one of the more notable groups. As Harris said in his press release: “The life of a professional football player is one intrinsically tied to long- term pain management.”
Many pro athletes discovered the analgesic benefits of marijuana during their playing careers, which meant that they were violating their league’s drug policies as well as state and federal law. But now, as the trend toward legalization has picked up pace, those same athletes, now retired and free of their contractual obligations are beginning to speak out together. One of the lobbying groups is called Athletes for Care, an organization of former and current professional athletes who support medical marijuana. Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans and former Philadelphia Flyers hockey player Riley Cote. Cote was connected to one of the 177 companies that applied for — but did not receive — a license to grow.
Some of many prior posts about medical marijuana and pro football:
- ESPN highlights NFL players, past and present, eager to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- NFL commissioner reluctant to support allowing players to use "addictive" marijuana
- "Medical Marijuana Could Help the NFL Cure the Illness Menacing Players' Brains, Activists Say"
- Active player urges NFL to allow its employees to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- Should the NFL fund medical marijuana studies?
- "The NFL Should Let Players Use Marijuana"
- "NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"
Friday, April 28, 2017
During an interview this morning on ESPN's "Mike and Mike," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he doesn't yet believe marijuana use has any place in the league. According to this CBSSports.com article:
Although the league has lowered its penalties for testing positive for marijuana -- and not, you know, suspending someone half a season for failing a drug test -- it's still not allowing players to ease physical pain through medically prescribed marijuana.
Based on what Roger Goodell said on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" Friday morning, that standard won't be changing any time soon.
Goodell said he believes marijuana remains "addictive" in nature and still has negative health consequences.
"I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use. Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? You're ingesting smoke, so that's not usually a positive thing. It does have an addictive nature," Goodell said. "There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that might not be healthy for players long term. It's not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game.
"We really want to help our players ... but I want to make sure the negative consequences aren't something that we'll be held accountable for years down the road."
The NFL isn't going to be that billion-dollar company that just suddenly tells everyone to smoke as much weed as they want. There are all kinds of legal issues at play here, especially with NFL players crossing in and out of various states -- some of which have legalized marijuana, many of which don't -- each week of the season.
Additionally, the NFL is almost always conservative by nature. It is very rarely ahead of the curve when it comes to what society changes for society in terms of being acceptable and appropriate.
And at the end of the day, the league can always blame the doctors. Which Goodell did: he says that medical advisers for both the NFL and NFLPA have not told the league or the union to proceed with making the penalties for marijuana lighter and/or approving medical marijuana.
Contrary to Goodell, NFL players think they should be allowed to use medical marijuana to treat pain caused by playing the game. Nearly two-thirds of all NFL players believe removing restrictions on marijuana would cut opioid use in the league. According to one study, 51 percent of retired players said they used prescription opioids to treat pain during their playing days, and of those players 71 percent admit to having misused the drugs.
- ESPN highlights NFL players, past and present, eager to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- Active player urges NFL to allow its employees to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- Should the NFL fund medical marijuana studies?
- "The NFL Should Let Players Use Marijuana"
- "NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Marijuana Policy Within Professional Sports -- Arguments For and Against League Acceptance and Player Use
In my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, there is often interest in exploring how professional sports leagues deal with marijuana issues (and the issue changes dynamically nearly every year). This year is no different, and I am excited to review the materials and hear the presentation of this year's student addressing the topic that serves as the title of this post. Here are several links to articles sent to me by the student in preparation for his presentation:
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
As reported in this new Washington Post piece, the "[l]eaders of the NFL Players Association are preparing a proposal that would amend the sport’s drug policies to take a 'less punitive' approach to dealing with recreational marijuana use by players, according to the union’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith." Here is more:
The proposal will be presented to union’s board of player representatives, Smith said Tuesday. If it is approved by those players, Smith said, the proposal will be made to the league. The NFL would have to agree to any changes to the drug policy, which is negotiated and jointly administered by the league and players’ union.
The proposal to modify the manner in which the league deals with recreational marijuana use would, if it is delivered, come as the NFLPA’s recently formed pain management committee separately studies the issue of marijuana use by players as a pain management tool and whether that should be permissible under the drug policies.
“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” Smith said in a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors. “I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”
Marijuana use currently is banned by the NFL and positive or missed tests can result in fines and suspensions for players. Smith said the sport’s leaders must keep in mind that there might be underlying reasons for what is called recreational marijuana use by players. “We have to do a better job of knowing if our players are suffering from other potentially dangerous psychological issues like depression, right?” Smith said. “So if I look at this myopically as just a recreational use of marijuana and miss the fact that we might have players suffering from depression, what have I fixed? Worse yet, you may have solved an issue that gets the steady drumbeat in a newspaper but miss an issue like chronic depression . . . where a person theoretically might be able to smoke more weed because it makes them feel better but it’s not curing their depression.
“So to me, as we’re looking at that front end — and it’s been a long process — the reason why I think it’s more complicated than just making a quick decision about recreational use is we look at these things as a macro-issue. And what we try to do is what a union’s supposed to do: improve the health and safety of our players in a business that sometimes can seriously exacerbate existing physical and mental issues.”
The league and union agreed in 2014 to modifications of the drug policy regarding marijuana. The threshold for what constitutes a positive test for marijuana was relaxed. A level of 15 nanograms of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) per milliliter of urine or blood was counted as a positive, the most stringent standard in professional sports, prior to 2014. Under the revision, 35 nanograms per milliliter counts as a positive; a nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.
It takes four missed or positive tests to trigger a four-game suspension without pay. An initial violation results in referral to the substance abuse program. A second violation is a fine equivalent to two game checks for the player and a third violation is a fine equivalent to four game checks. A fifth violation results in a 10-game suspension and a sixth violation results in a one-year banishment from the sport.
Smith did not provide specifics as to how the union might seek to reduce the penalties for marijuana use and said he did not know if the league would be receptive to such a proposal. “I don’t spend time thinking about what the league thinks,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s a waste of time. . . . We will sit down and we will present a proposal to our board. . . . If our board approves the proposal, we’ll sit down with the league and we will make the proposal to them. If we think that this is medically, scientifically and therapeutically the right position, then we tell the league, ‘Therapeutically, medically and scientifically, this is the right position.’
The league consistently has said in the past that it would consider revising its stance on marijuana only if advised to do so by medical experts. “This isn’t just the NFL’s policy,” a league spokesman said in a written statement in November. “This is a collectively bargained policy with the NFL Players Association. The program is administered by jointly appointed independent medical advisors to the league and the NFLPA who are constantly reviewing and relying on the most current research and scientific data. We continue to follow the advice of leading experts on treatment, pain management and other symptoms associated with concussions and other injuries. However, medical experts have not recommended making a change or revisiting our collectively-bargained policy and approach related to marijuana, and our position on its use remains consistent with federal law and workplace policies across the country. If these medical experts change their view, then this is an area that we would explore.”
Smith said Tuesday that the issue is complex. “I think that one of the things that we have looked at over the last 18 months is whether we should be making changes in the way in which marijuana is treated under the current system,” he said. “And I am convinced that we should be looking at it a little bit more of the way that we looked at it in 2014. We tried to move more towards a treatment, addiction-eradication focus rather than punitive. I think that we are gonna take that to another level. . . . But it’s also complicated."...
The union’s pain management committee actually is a subcommittee of its Mackey-White traumatic brain injury committee. The committee’s study of players’ use of marijuana as a pain management tool is to continue at least through the spring. “When it comes to the issue of medical marijuana… we made the decision a few months ago to form a pain management committee. . . . We’ve now asked that Mackey-White group to create a subcommittee just dealing with the issue of pain and treating pain as its own separate, identifiable ailment, as opposed to it being a consequence of some other injury,” Smith said.
“And we will be looking at the issue of the efficacy of using marijuana, along with looking at opioid use and all of the ways in which our players are treated by physicians and sometimes not treated well by physicians and, being blunt, the ways in which they self-treat. . . . The hope is that pain committee will be making a presentation to the full Mackey-White committee sometime in May.”
Some of many prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:
- ESPN highlights NFL players, past and present, eager to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
Sunday, December 11, 2016
This new USA Today piece, headlined "Chauncey Billups says marijuana can help players," reports on a number of notable persons connected to the National Basketball Association making a number of notable comments about marijuana use by NBA players. Here are the details:
Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle discussed the NBA's marijuana policy on NBA Countdown this week. The three former players basically said the same thing: The NBA should change its policy, especially taking into account the fact that marijuana could be a safer alternative to alcohol and addictive painkillers.
Billups, who played on the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Clippers, Knicks and Pistons over the course of a 17-year career, also said he actually liked when certain former teammates smoked marijuana before games because it helped calm them down. He said: "When you're talking about protecting your investment, protecting these players, protecting the guys, if medicinal marijuana, if that's something that can help out with your franchise, with your organization, with your players, that's a discussion that needs to happen.
"I honestly played with players, I'm not gonna name names, but I wanted them to actually smoke. They played better like that. Big-time anxiety, a lot of things that can be affected, it brought them down a little bit, helped them out, helped them focus in a little bit on the game plan, that I needed them to do that. I would rather have them do that sometimes than drink."
Some prior related posts on sports leagues and marijuana reform:
- Golden State NBA MJ fan: Steve Kerr as (unlikely?) medical marijuana advocate
- As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?
- Responding to election results, NFL Players Association moving forward on studying marijuana for pain relief
- How will legalization of marijuana effect sports leagues policies regarding marijuana use?
Sunday, December 4, 2016
When I think of MJ and the NBA, my thoughts generally run to Michael Jordan. But the head coach of the Golden State Warriors is now doing his best to ensure I think of marijuana reform when MJ and the NBA comes up. This local article, headlined "Warriors coach Steve Kerr strengthens stance advocating medical marijuana over painkillers," highlights some reasons why:
On Friday, Steve Kerr did what he does every day. He scrolled his phone, surfed the web and searched for NBA headlines. He saw some of the usual stuff, but, also, one plastered everywhere that caught his eye: Kerr uses pot. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kerr said. “But I do find it ironic that if I said I used OxyContin for relief for my back pain, it would not have been a headline.
Kerr went on a CSN Bay Area podcast earlier in the day and had an extended discussion about the dangers of pain-killers. In it, he revealed that he tried marijuana a couple times over the past 18 months to try to relieve his back pain. It didn’t work. But within his research, he found medicinal marijuana to be far less dangerous than the pain pills prescribed to athletes.
He said he had no interest in making it into a major story. But he now doesn’t seem to mind that it has taken off in that direction because it has given him a chance to speak out against an issue he feels quite passionate. In his Saturday night pregame media session, Kerr talked for five-plus minutes on the subject.
“You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet,” Kerr said. “NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous. The addiction possibility, what it could lead to, the long-term health risks. So the issue that is really important is: How do we do what’s best for the players? But I understand it’s a perception issue around the country. NFL, NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking these guys are a bunch of potheads. That’s what it is. But to me it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues. Because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you. The stuff that they’re banning is fine. Again, it’s perception. But I do think it’s a matter of time. You can see it with our country. Our country is starting to wisen up on the medicinal marijuana side. But I hope we can wisen up on the prescription drug side. That’s scary stuff and it’s really not talked about very often.”
Kerr said the “conversation is important” and continued. “I’m always struck every time I’m at home on the couch watching a sporting event, some drug commercial comes on and they show these happy people jumping in a lake, rowing a boat,” he said. “And you just wait for the qualifier: ‘Side effects include suicidal thoughts and possible death.’ And you’re just like this is insane. It’s insane. It really is. And yet the stigma is not on those drugs being prescribed day and night to anybody. The stigma is on something that’s relatively harmless.”
Kerr was then asked whether he feels the NBA should deal with the issue in the upcoming CBA, which will reportedly be finalized in the next few weeks. “I think the league should look into the use of medicinal marijuana for pain relief,” Kerr said. “As far as recreational, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about pain relief, what’s best for our players health. That’s what should be in the CBA. And that’s what our owners and our league and our player’s union should be the most concerned with. And maybe part of that is educating the public about how bad some of the stuff our players are given for pain relief actually is. So the education is important and I think as the public gets more educated and people get more educated, there will ultimately be a policy that includes medicinal CBD, oils, whatever is best suited for pain. Hopefully that’s something that comes in the next CBA, but I have no idea. That’s not my responsibility.”
Earlier in the day, Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked about the subject. He said he’d never used marijuana, but agreed with Kerr’s comments about why it’s far safer than pain-killers. “It makes a lot of sense,” Green said. “You look at something that comes from the Earth — any vegetable that comes from the Earth, they encourage you to eat it, you know? So I guess it does make a little sense, as opposed to giving someone a manufactured pill. Like, if something takes your pain away the way some of these pills do, it can’t be all good for you. So I guess it makes a lot of sense, when you look at, he talked about Vicodin and Toradol — like, you can be completely hurting and then take a Toradol shot and go through a game and feel nothing. Is that really good for you over the course of time? I doubt it.”...
Kerr may no longer be using medical marijuana. But he’s planted himself at the forefront of the discussion surrounding it. “I just urge people to do your research before you start taking the stuff we’re all encouraged to take,” he said. “And I always feel bad for the NFL guys. Playing in the NBA, I had lots of injuries, plenty of pain. I never took anything like the opioids we’re talking about. But NFL guys, those guys are basically in a car wreck every week. Sometimes twice in five days which is another issue. But when they’re prescribed that, it’s really scary. Especially when they’re prescribed by team doctors when you do research on the possible repercussions.”
Some prior related posts on sports leagues and marijuana reform: