As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert pointed out, during the craziness of the War on Drugs in the 1980s it was “politically and socially necessary” for the NFL to discipline cannabis users. But after the war on drugs proved to be an incredibly massive failure, Americans grew more accepting certain drugs and viewed them much more tolerantly.
Now national polls show that the majority of Americans support legalizing cannabis. As public support increases, so does legalization. Today more than 60 percent (20 of the 32 teams) of NFL teams play in states that have legalized medical cannabis. Come November that percentage could grow as there are a large number of state ballot initiatives pushing for medical and recreational cannabis legalization.
There are also bills in the Senate and House aimed specifically at cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD). A group of ex-NFL football players are pushing the league to allow players to use CBD as a pain reliever. As the league’s policy currently stands, a player taking CBD could potentially surpass the league’s testing threshold and test positive for cannabis use.
The risk [of testing positive for using CBD] is very low compared to the people using high-THC cannabis,” said Joel Stanley, CEO of hemp extracts producer CW Hemp. “But there certainly is a risk. But when you have something that you know is non-toxic, non-psychoactive, and non-addictive, and if you are in those high-impact situations, why not [allow players to] take that product?
An NFL League spokesperson had the opposite feelings about whether or not cannabis should be allowed in the NFL for pain management.
Independent medical advisors to the league and the National Football League Players Association are constantly reviewing and relying on the most current research and scientific data. The league will continue to follow the advice of leading experts on treatment, pain management and other symptoms associated with concussions and other injuries
The statement went on to say:
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.
Just because something is federally illegal, that doesn’t mean that an employer has to test for it or punish its employees, especially when cannabis isn’t a performance enhancer, nor does it pose significant health risks to players.
While punishing football players for cannabis use might not seem entirely rational, large organizations, such as the NFL, tend to act in their perceived self-interest. So what’s making the NFL cling to its punishment of cannabis users?