Given America’s growing acceptance of weed, the bad press the NFL gets when it punishes marijuana use more harshly than domestic abuse, and the personal tragedies and lawsuits that have stemmed from team doctors overprescribing opioids, it seems a little peculiar that the NFL continues to retain such a rigid stance on marijuana use while team doctors hand out overly addictive painkillers like candy at a parade. Considering that the league is swamped with concussion suits and there’s a possibility that cannabis could reduce the impact of head trauma.
Let’s look at the changing national perception of marijuana, possible incentives the NFL has for maintaining its marijuana policies, upcoming football-related cannabis research initiatives, and what it might take to get the NFL to stop punishing players for using marijuana.
As public support increases so does legalization. Today more than 60 percent (20 of the 32 teams) of NFL teams play in states that allow medical marijuana. That percentage could grow as the groups who are pushing for medical and recreational marijuana legalization are getting stronger.
Marijuana is handled differently from all other substances. The discipline procedures for marijuana abusers are less strict than violations for all other drugs. Clause 1.5.2(c) states that an additional offense is allowed before suspensions are leveled in cases involving marijuana. And up until that point, fines for positive tests are less steep.
Substance abuse violations are not as consistently punished as PED violations, but 68 percent of first-time offenders receive four games and almost 75 percent of second-time offenders receive one year, per league policy.
Contrast that with the greater variation in the length of suspensions for personal conduct violations. This catchall category includes everything from murder to unsanctioned in–game violence to embarrassing the league on social media. 38 percent of these “conduct violators” received a one-game suspension
Medical experts have not recommended making a change or revisiting the policy or approach related to marijuana, and the position on its use remains consistent with federal law and workplace policies across the country.
While scientific data sways the public opinion, a real change ultimately lies within the owners. They hold a majority power in the league. Trying to gauge how NFL owners perceive marijuana testing would be pure speculation. Publicly they always speak of the best interest in the safety of a player.
Where it goes from here will depend on further legalization efforts and medical research demonstrating that this one supposed unhealthy and addictive substance is less unhealthy or addictive than the medications players currently take in order to play with pain.