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:
Monday, November 28, 2016
Regular readers know I find fascinating the intersection of MJ reform and NFL realities. Two recent pieces, as linked and excerpted below, highlight these realities:
Seantrel Henderson, a third-year offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, is facing his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse rules. But Henderson’s case is unusual because it raises fresh questions about the approach to pain management and changing attitudes about the legalization of marijuana.
What makes Henderson’s situation unique is that he uses marijuana, which is legal in many states but prohibited under the collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, to combat the pain from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that just this year has caused him to have two surgeries. In January, 2 1/2 feet of his colon were removed and in April he underwent surgery to reattach his intestines. In the interim, he wore an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds. He chose not to appeal the four-game suspension he received in September, his first of the season.
But Henderson is expected to appeal what would be a 10-game suspension for this second offense for using a banned substance. The NFL is expected to decide his punishment this week and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Henderson may take the matter to court.
For the typical American going to work every day, the demands of your job probably don't include your daily dose of pain medications which are administered by your employer. Imagine being an employee at General Motors or Chase Bank and being forced to see your "company doctor" for all ailments and being prescribed addictive pain medications. Now what if that same job resulted in daily injuries, most of which would be considered debilitating for the general population? Well this was the reality for me and countless other NFL players....
With so many states now legalizing some form of legal marijuana use, the NFL and its conservative owners must face the inevitable. The players' association is beginning to push the league to reevaluate their logic. "Certainly given some of the medical research out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances we talk a look at," says Players' Union Executive George Atallah.
The league's response to the topic included a statement that it would be open to reconsidering its policy, but the league's medical experts haven't recommended any changes. Let's remember that these same medical experts denied that football caused concussions.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Responding to election results, NFL Players Association moving forward on studying marijuana for pain relief
As many like to say, elections have consequences. And this new Washington Post article highlights one really interesting and surprisingly quick consequence of all the marijuana election results. The lengthy article is headlined "As more states legalize marijuana, NFLPA to study potential as a pain-management tool," and here are excerpts:
In the aftermath of a new set of states legalizing marijuana use in the national elections, the NFL Players Association said Wednesday it is forming a committee to actively study the possibility of allowing players to use marijuana as a pain-management tool.
The union is forming an NFL players pain management committee that will study players’ use of marijuana as a pain-management mechanism, among other things, though the union has not yet determined if an adjustment to the sport’s ban on marijuana use is warranted.
“Marijuana is still governed by our collective bargaining agreement,” George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And while some states have moved in a more progressive direction, that fact still remains. We are actively looking at the issue of pain management of our players. And studying marijuana as a substance under that context is the direction we are focused on.”
A growing push from players within the sport, plus an ongoing national medical conversation over the benefits of marijuana and the dangers of opiate-based painkillers, have increased scrutiny on the league’s rules that ban the drug. This also comes as voters in California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana use Tuesday, joining four other states and Washington, D.C., in enacting similar laws. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana use, bringing the total of states with such measures to more than two dozen.
But marijuana use remains prohibited under the drug policy collectively bargained between the NFL and the NFLPA, and both parties would need to agree to any changes to that policy. Players are tested for marijuana and can be fined or suspended without pay for positive or missed tests. The union’s contemplation of approving marijuana as a pain-management mechanism for players had begun before Tuesday’s voting.
Some players, including former Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe, argue that marijuana is safer than the painkillers commonly used by players and its use should be permitted by the sport for pain-management purposes....
Some contend that the increasing number of states to legalize marijuana use should impact the NFL’s view. “There is no health and safety reason for marijuana being on the banned list and now the legal rationale has crumbled,” a person on the players’ side of the sport said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Some medical experts are also advocating for cannabis-based treatment over some current painkillers, noting the addiction and overdose potential of opioids. In 2014, 19,000 deaths were attributed to overdoses from prescription pain medication, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Prescription painkillers have also been cited as a gateway to heroin use.
“In my mind, there’s no comparison if we just started from scratch in the year 2016 and looked newly at which class of drugs worked better to treat pain and side-effect profile up to and including death, in the case of opioids,” Daniel Clauw, a University of Michigan professor who has performed studies comparing opioids and cannabis, told the Post in June. “You put the two next to each other, and there really is no debate which is more effective to treat pain. You would go the cannabinoid route instead of the opiate route.”
Cannabidiol, or CBD, an anti-inflammatory extracted from cannabis, could potentially help players as a preventative measure against one of the most pressing issues facing the NFL: concussions. Lester Grinspoon, a professor emeritus at Harvard and one of the first medical marijuana researchers, said in an interview with the Post earlier this year that “evidence shows CBD is neuroprotective. I would have each individual take a capsule an hour or two before they play or practice. It’s better than nothing.”...
The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and union runs through 2020. But the two sides review the sport’s drug policies annually and sometimes make adjustments. In September 2014, the league and union agreed to raise the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for marijuana from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 35 nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram....
The league has come under fire recently for the length of suspensions given for marijuana use compared to other violations, such as the initial suspensions for domestic violence incidents assessed to then-New York Giants kicker Josh Brown (one game) earlier this season and then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (two games) in 2014....
Gabriel Feldman, the director of the sports law program at Tulane University, said the NFL and NFLPA face a practical and perhaps political decision about marijuana, but not one of compliance with shifting state laws. “There are substances on the banned substances list that are not illegal,” Feldman said in a phone interview. “The league and the Players Association can make the determination under the CBA that substances that are legal can be on the banned substances list. . . . [Conversely the league] doesn’t have to test for it just because it’s illegal.
“The league is certainly not bound by the laws of individual states in terms of whether they test or don’t test. There are some who might say that alcohol should be a banned substance even though it’s legal. Ultimately it’s up to the league and the players to decide.”
The momentum of the marijuana-legalization movement potentially could influence the NFL’s thinking, Feldman said. “It may,” Feldman said. “I would think that both the league and the players are continuing to study the issue and continuing to study whether it makes sense. Certainly as the laws change, that might inform their decision and we may see action. [But] the league also has a uniformity issue. Even if the federal prohibition is lifted and it’s legal in some states and illegal in other states, the NFL might have an interest in maintaining uniformity in its policy.”
November 9, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Regular readers know I am regularly eager to spotlight the role that elite athletes are playing in recasting conversations about the use of medical marijuana. Consequently, I was pleased to see ESPN now giving some attention to these issues through these new pieces detailing how current and former NFL players are thinking about these issues:
The last of these articles is quite lengthy and should be quite interesting for all NFL fans as well as all persons interested in marijuana reform issues.
The reality of where a large number of NFL teams/players are located serves as another reason why the 2016 election ballot initiatives on marijuana reform are so significant. Five NFL teams are located in three of the states voting on recreational marijuana reform (the Cardinals, Patriots, Raiders, Rams and 49ers), and three are located in one state voting on medical marijuana reform (Buccaneers, Dolphins and Jaguars). If reforms pass in all these states, I think it gets harder still for the NFL to continue to aggressively prohibit its players from engaging in behaviors that their fans can lawfully engaging in within the state in which the team is located.
Indeed, the story surrounding Eugene Monroe and his involvement in the medical marijuana industry in Maryland reinforces my belief that the medical marijuana initiative in Florida could be among the most consequential this fall. Notably, as Eugene Monroe's dynamic website highlights, not only is Monroe's commitment to medical marijuana research and reform as significant passion for him, but he started his career by playing for four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I suspect Monroe still have plenty of professional and personal connections in the Jacksonville area, and that he may look to expand his medical marijuana advocacy and activities in the Sunshine State if voters there enact the significant marijuana reform constitutional amendment next week.
Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:
Sunday, September 11, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this new Reason article/video, which seems like a fitting topic to highlight on this first big weekend of professional football games. Here is some of the set-up to the five-minute video I have enbedded below:
"I was sitting in the training room one day and I just watched player after player come in to take a Toradol shot just to practice," says former NFL player Ricky Williams. "I realized if we have to take all this medication, all these pharmaceuticals, just to practice it can't be good for our bodies in the long run. And that's when I started to look at my health seriously and look for alternatives."
Williams, the Heisman-winning running back who set multiple rushing records for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended by the NFL and then retired under a cloud of shame in 2003 for testing positive for marijuana. Dolphins fans, the media, and the league all turned on Williams, labeling him an underachiever with a drug problem. Williams ultimately returned in 2005 and played several more seasons in the NFL, but the stigma never went away.
But what if the league and the public were wrong to judge Ricky Williams? What if he was just ahead of his time?
Some researchers are now finding evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have two major benefits for athletes: 1) they act as a non-addictive pain reliever and 2) they can protect the brain from injury. These healing properties could be beneficial in a league where opioid addiction and concussions have become significant health concerns.
Williams is now part of a group of former NFL players who are lobbying the league to reconsider its position on marijuana. The former NFL star was one of several athletes in attendance at the 420 Games in Santa Monica, CA this Spring representing the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, a group dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana.
Cannabis is a banned substance under the NFL's player agreement and commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that he will not change league policy to allow medicinal marijuana until research proves it is a legitimate drug. But marijuana is classified as an illegal substance at the federal level, which makes getting grants and approval for research a long and arduous process. So former players are putting up their own money to get around the government's tight regulations and fund their own studies.
"Cannabis has been in the closet. It's been suppressed. It's coming out," says Constance Finley, founder of the cannabis extract firm Constance Therapeutics. Finley is working with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to produce the evidence players need to change NFL policy.
"The owners have to see responsible, smart people who are completely mainstream to have their experiences reflected, have their minds opened," says Finley. "I think that we could move past the impasse with the level of research that we're talking about doing. It will be irrefutable."
Players like Ricky Williams are hoping their participation in these studies can lead to change and help future athletes stay healthy long after their playing days are over. "Hopefully as public opinion starts to change the leagues will soften their stance," says Williams. "Especially the NFL. They could really be ahead of the charge as far as getting this medicine to people who really need it."
Monday, August 15, 2016
I have be enthralled by the Rio 2016 Olympics, but I have not had a chance to link the quadrennial fascination with quirky sports to my persistent obsession with marijuana law, policy and reform. Until I saw this Mashable article, which shares a headline with the title of this post. Here is how the article gets started:
Getting blazed and athletic prowess may seem like an unlikely combination, except in the world of competitive skateboarding. Skateboarding is one of five new sports set to make their debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — like your uncle who wants to get down with the youth — may not be ready for the anti-establishment nature of skate culture.
Australia's Tas Pappas, one of the world's top skateboarders in the '90s, has suggested the use of marijuana in skateboarding might dissuade athletes from wanting to compete at the Olympics. "I'm wondering how it's going to work as far as the drug testing is concerned, because some guys skate really well on weed and if they have to stop smoking for one competition (the Olympics) it might really affect their performance," Pappas told ABC News.
It's no secret weed and professional sport haven't been the best of friends. Since the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) inception in 1999, cannabinoids have been on the organisation's annual list of in-competition prohibited substances. Australian sporting codes tried to lobby WADA to remove the cannabinoid prohibition in 2012, suggesting the drug wasn't performance enhancing. In response, WADA raised the cannabinoid threshold to 150 nanograms per millilitre in 2013, 10 times its previous limit.
While the relaxed measure reflects changing attitudes to marijuana globally, the current situation means if Olympic skateboarders get caught with a cannabinoid concentration above WADA's threshold, they could be stripped of medals or banned from competition.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?
Long-time readers are familiar with a number of posts in this space discussing a number of current and former NFL players talking about medical marijuana as a alternative to traditional painkillers as a way to treat chronic pain (and perhaps brain injuries) from thier playing days. Another recent article on this front comes from PBS in this article, headlined "For some NFL players, ban on medical marijuana is a real pain," has has this overview:
Percocet or pot? An increasing number of Americans are choosing to use legalized cannabis instead of highly addictive opioids to control chronic pain but not in the NFL where a blanket ban is still in place. A group of retired players are working toward changing that, knowing firsthand what it's like to live on pills.
It makes great sense that past and present NFL football players are at the forefront of some discussions about medical marijuana, and I continue to believe that these athletes could play a huge role in legitimating medical marijuana use in the years ahead. But during a week in which sports talk-radio and the sports pages are filled with reports of dozens of NBA altheles signing new contracts paying them tens of millions of dollars(!), I am wondering whether stars from another prominent US professional sports league might eventually play some role in legitimating recreartional marijuana use.
Notably, one former NBA player has recently suggested that up to 80% of all NBA players use marijuana. Even if this number is significantly inflated and, say, only 25% of NBA players use marijuana recreationally, this would still mean that there are likely at least a dozen marijuana users among the 50+ players who have recently signed free agent contracts that will be paying them well over ten million dollars per year for being elite athletes.
For a host of financial/personal reasons, current NBA players are wise not to say a word about marijuana use or the national marijuana reform movement. With tens of millon dollars at stake in their new contracts (not to mention future endorsement or broadcasting interests), there is no reason an active players would or should, right now, feel comfortable talking about marijuana use among NBA players or even openly giving a donation to a marijuana research or reform organization. But, given the reasonable assumption that the NBA now has now the greatest percentage of multi-millionaire employees who use marijuana and still perform terrifically at their job, I think marijuana reform organizations ought to be looking to that league for potential future reform advocates.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Active player urges NFL to allow its employees to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
Regular readers of this blog likely know that I think pro football players could (and perhaps will) be hugely important social force in charging national perceptions concerning marijuana as a legitimate medicine for dealing with pain. Consequently, I find both notable and significnat this recent New York Times piece headined "Raven Calls on N.F.L. to Allow Marijuana Use for Sport’s Pains." Here are excerpts:
Eugene Monroe has had his share of bumps and bruises during his sevenyear N.F.L. career as an offensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. He has had shoulder injuries, ankle sprains, concussions and all the usual wear and tear that comes from hitting defenders dozens of times a game.
To deal with these injuries, Monroe has stepped forward and called upon the N.F.L. to stop testing players for marijuana so he and other players can take the medical version of the drug to treat their chronic pain, and avoid the addictive opioids that teams regularly dispense. “We now know that these drugs are not as safe as doctors thought, causing higher rates of addiction, causing death all around our country,” Monroe said in an interview on Friday, “and we have cannabis, which is far healthier, far less addictive and, quite frankly, can be better in managing pain.”
Retired football players like Kyle Turley and Ricky Williams have promoted the benefits of marijuana and called for the league to acknowledge those benefits. Monroe, though, may be one of the first to openly urge the league to stop testing for the drug, possibly risking the wrath of owners, league officials and other players.
In a series of posts on Twitter in March, Monroe castigated Commissioner Roger Goodell for refusing to modify the league’s stance on the drug. Monroe also donated $10,000 to help pay for research on the benefits of medical marijuana, and he challenged other players to match his gift. “It’s a shame that Roger Goodell would tell our fans there’s no medical vs recreational distinction,” Monroe wrote.
Last week, Monroe said he had given $80,000 to Realm of Caring, a Colorado-based advocacy group that is working with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to study the impact of medical marijuana on traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. Monroe also started a website about the use of marijuana for pain management.
Though two dozen states now allow the use of some forms of marijuana, the N.F.L. has not softened its stance on the drug. Before the Super Bowl in February, Goodell said the league’s medical advisers continued to look at the research but did not have enough evidence to warrant a change in the league’s position. “Yes, I agree there have been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view,” Goodell said. “Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”
Even if the N.F.L. changed its position, any changes to the league’s policy on banned substances would have to be negotiated with the N.F.L. Players Association. Monroe said that he had met with the association’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, and that talks were continuing....
Monroe said that players had told him that they supported his call to soften the league’s stance on marijuana testing, but no current player has publicly backed him. The Ravens’ owner, Steve Bisciotti, tacitly supported Monroe. “We’re not the ones taking that physical abuse,” Bisciotti told balitmoreravens.com. “We’re not talking about a kid that’s been suspended three times coming out and saying that. I respect Eugene a lot, and I think all he asked for is more studying on the subject.”...
Monroe said he was not afraid of any retribution for his stance in part because he said he did not use marijuana. But from the research he has done, Monroe said the benefits were strong enough to justify pushing the league and the union to relax its position, even if it hurt his standing in the N.F.L. “My health is far more important than any possible career implications,” Monroe said. “I want to be there for my family.”
Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use: