By: Rachel Gillette, Partner and Chair of the Cannabis Law Practice The National Football League (NFL) preseason is upon us, and though the players may have changed, the league’s strict cannabis policies have not. That stands to change, though, with the renegotiation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement – a labor agreement between the NFL team owners and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) – which expires after the 2020 season.
According to a report from
NBC Sports, “the NFL is prepared to make major concessions regarding the substance-abuse policy, especially as it relates to marijuana.” Currently, players are subject to suspension if they consecutively fail two urine tests and test positive for THC. After the first positive test, they are entered in the NFL’s Stage Two intervention program, which means increased testing for up to 24 months. Reportedly, the NFL has been “lenient in the application of the rules that apply after a reinstatement following a suspension for at least one year” in the cases of Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant and Randy Gregory. Each tested positive for marijuana – and in some cases, other drugs – to the point of suspension. Gordon and Bryant have applied for reinstatement for the 2019 season, and Gregory has “every intention of filing his petition,” according to Rotoworld.com.
In a 2016 survey of 226 of the NFL’s nearly 3,000 players on active rosters or practice squads, ESPN found that 61 percent believed that players would take fewer injections of strong anti-inflammatory drugs such as Toradol if they could treat pain legally with marijuana. In May of this year, the NFL and NFLPA announced their intention to study the use of cannabis as a pain management tool for players, as well as on mental health and wellness. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer told the
Washington Post, “I think it’s a proud day for the NFL and the NFLPA to come together on these issues in a very public way. I think it demonstrates the spirit of cooperation we have around our health and safety issues.”
Of course, there are many scenarios to think through when it comes to approving cannabis use for NFL players, the biggest one being that marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. Analysts are concerned that creating a state-by-state policy of acceptance would give unfair advantage to teams in legal states, as free agents could give preference to those teams. So while the marijuana ban won’t go away overnight, players, coaches, medical advisors and even fans are becoming more outspoken in support of cannabis for professional athletes.
Here are a few former NFL players who are now candid advocates for marijuana:
Tiki Barber – Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Grove Management Group, a company focused on launching and building the most innovative businesses in the cannabis industry. Eugene Monroe – Diversity Consultant, Green Thumb Industries. Monroe was the first active NFL player to openly advocate for the use of cannabinoids to treat chronic pain and sports-related injuries, and it cost him his contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Green Thumb is on a mission to provide safe, effective and therapeutic medical cannabis nationwide by operating world class cultivation facilities and customer-first retail experiences. Ricky Williams – Founder, Real Wellness (RW). Williams had a history of suspensions from the NFL for marijuana, and retired in 2011. He’s now trained in ancient Indian medicine, yoga, massage and other healing specialties, and RW is a thoughtfully curated line of cannabidiol (CBD) and herbal-infused products developed for the sophisticated, health-conscious consumer.
We will continue to monitor the NFL’s and other professional sports’ policies on cannabis use. Please sign up for blog updates to stay informed!