It’s nice to watch things change. Sometimes it feels like change takes too long, but at least it happens when it does. In a recent move toward greater understanding, the NBA announced its new weed friendly policy, which no longer penalizes players for using cannabis.
What’s the news with the NBA and weed
In the beginning of April, it was reported that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached between the NBA and Players Union. Details were not announced at that time for the upcoming seven-year deal, but a couple points were released by sources briefed on it. The agreement was not finalized at that time, as it had to be ratified by both the players and the team owners. Here are some included points:
- Investment – players can invest in both NBA and WNBA teams. This can be done through a private equity firm. Players also can invest in gambling and cannabis companies, and promote them. Plus they can sign endorsement deals with sports betting companies so long as they are non-gambling enterprises.
- Prize money – set to $500,000 per player for the In-Season championship team.
- Eligibility – Players must be in 65 games for eligibility to awards like MVP.
- Testing – Required for NBA Combine players if their team is selected.
- Taxes – A second tax apron is to be instituted that gets rid of mid-level taxpayer exceptions for teams.
- Salary – An increase in veteran extension limits which allows a 140% increases from 120%, in the first year of an extension.
- And weed – Cannabis will no longer be tested for by the NBA, and players will not be penalized for use.
This news was met with a good response by the public. Unsurprisingly, Snoop Dogg came out in support, saying on the ESPN show “Stephen A’s World”, that this is very positive in terms of the “medical side of it, the health benefits and how it could actually help ease the opioids and all the pills that they’ve been given and the injections.”
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He went on to say, “As long as it doesn’t enhance your skills to make you play better or to give you an advantage, you should be able to treat yourself and to heal yourself.” Snoop is a longtime supporter of cannabis in professional sports, as it gives a better option to harder drugs like opioids.
The agreement was officially ratified on April 26th. The new agreement’s policies start this July, and run through the 2030 playing season. If both the NBA and its players opt for it, it can be ended before this time.
Previous weed policy in the NBA
Like most other parts of life, due to complete prohibition for many decades, up until recently the NBA didn’t allow cannabis in any capacity. This changed in 2020, when the NBA instituted an at-the-time temporary policy to stop testing all players for cannabis, and to only test those who seem to have problematic use. The idea was to ignore what qualifies as casual use. This halt in random drug testing happened in time for the 2020-2021 season. The policy was then extended in following years.
Said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in 2020, “We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now. I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”
In October 2022, this policy was extended for the third season straight. Under the policy, players are still tested when there is probable cause, but that’s it. This is in contrast to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which chose not to take cannabis off its list of banned substances, even despite a controversy involving US runner Sha’Carri Richardson, who was disqualified from the Olympics for a positive THC test in 2020.
The reasoning given by WADA? That cannabis “violates the spirit of sport.” These policies are only applicable, during a relevant season, and in 2013, the testing threshold was raised to 150 ng/mL from 15 for cannabis in urine. For 2023, weed remained in its place with WADA, but whereas a violation used to result in sometimes years of suspension, these suspensions are now shortened to sometimes as low as a month; especially if the athlete can show they used the cannabis product outside of – and unrelated to – the sporting event.
Originally, the NBA standard procedure for positive drug tests involved entering the player to treatment and counseling for the first infraction, which was mandatory. For a second infraction there was a fine of $25,000 as well as counseling (but with no subjection to in-patient or aftercare treatment). For the third, the player was put on a five game suspension without pay. After that, players were suspended without pay, with each new infraction adding five more games to the suspension time.
Back in 2015, Larry Sanders, the center for the Milwaukee Bucks, exemplified this policy. That year with his fourth infraction, he was suspended for 10 games without pay. His first suspension of five games came the previous season. Sanders’ violations were all related to medical cannabis use, which the athlete spoke of as a useful treatment.
In other professional sports…
Apart from the WADA, which has not removed cannabis from its banned substances list, other US professional sports associations have loosened policy on cannabis use. In the collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2020-2021 season of the NFL, the policy was updated to restrict use only during the playing season, with an allowance for use in the off season.
The agreement also increased the amount of weed in the system for a positive result, from 35ng to 150ng. And it ended the policy of suspending players, leaving only fines instead. Prior to that, 10 positive results meant a player was looking at a year-long suspension. Now, players are required to undergo testing one time at the beginning of a season; a vast improvement from previous policy which required that 10 players per team get tested weekly.
When it comes to the NHL, cannabis isn’t a banned substance. Not only are players not randomly tested for it; even if they do show to have substantially high levels in their system, they can still deny entry into the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program. If they choose to do the program, the NHL won’t know they did. This is the most progressive policy thus far in US professional sports.
For MLB, cannabis was removed from the banned substances list in 2019, and players can use it without an issue in the off season. Technically, they’re not tested directly for weed even in the official season, but can run into problems if they appear to be visually high. In MLB’s drug policy, cannabis is still considered a “drug of abuse.”
As a “drug of abuse,” if a player is tested for it and comes out positive, they must go to mandatory counseling. A second infraction leads to a suspension of up to 100 games. As a non-performance enhancing drug, MLB’s reasoning is that since it can affect both health and the career of the athlete, that its within MLB’s jurisdiction to protect players from it.
Lastly, the UFC, also updated policy recently. In January 2021, it was reported that the UFC would no longer penalize fighters for testing positive for weed. According to Jeff Novitzky, the Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC, “The bottom line is that in regard to marijuana, we care about what an athlete consumed the day of a fight, not days or weeks before a fight, which has often been the case.” He went on to say there is “poor scientific correlation to in-competition impairment” from high levels of THC.
With the NBA officially adopting this new weed friendly policy, professional sports in America are that much closer to full acceptance. Perhaps in the near future we’ll actually see a final dropping of these unnecessary restrictions. Even in places like the Olympics.
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