US professional sports agencies are getting a lot more lenient with marijuana; epitomized by a recent move of the NBA to stop marijuana tests and penalties. Following in line, a committee of the NCAA is also suggesting that marijuana testing stop for college athletes. Read on for more information.
What is the NCAA?
The NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association, is a non-profit organization that works as a regulatory body for student athletics. According to its site, it works with 1,098 colleges and universities, and 102 athletic conferences. It’s a member-run organization, which includes college presidents, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives, compliance officers, academic support staff, coaches, information directors, conference staff, and health and safety workers.
About a half million college students participate in different sports. In fact, there are 19,886 teams; for which the NCAA holds 90 different championships, for 24 different sports. Approximately 57,661 participate in these championships each year. Basically, if you’re in college sports, you’re a part of the NCAA.
In terms of how its run; each division makes its own rules and guidelines. When it comes to wider issues that affect the whole organization; a group of committees come together with representation from all three divisions, to give recommendations. The highest ranking of these, is the Board of Governors. The Board makes sure each division runs as its supposed to, and follows all stated policies. It can even implement certain policies on its own. For all real changes in legislation, though, each division must take the input of the association-wide groups, and then debate and vote as per its own specific process.
Late last year, on December 7-8, the NCAA hosted the Cannabis in Collegiate Athletics Summit in Indianapolis. The meeting discussed current information on marijuana, including specific cannabinoids, and their physiological effects. The meeting was designed to go over current marijuana legislation within the NCAA; as general opinion about the drug – and its legality in different places – changes. That meeting was in December, 2022, and the NCAA released a statement in June, 2023.
Recent news on NCAA and marijuana
Right now, marijuana is on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. The idea to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances was proffered by one of the committees within the NCAA, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS).
On June 16th, the NCAA made an official statement about what’s going on, what we can expect, and the general process of legislation change within the organization. In order for a new policy to get adopted related to marijuana; each division must create its own legislation, and then adopt that legislation into official rules. The Board of Governors must also approve. The statement indicates that while this current process is in motion, the Committee will attempt to get the Board to stop testing at championship events until a final decision is made.
How likely is the Board to be on board with this? There’s a good shot, considering it was the governing bodies of the three divisions that asked the CSMAS how the CSMAS thinks the NCAA should continue regarding marijuana. Although, no word yet on whether this will happen or not.
It is the CSMAS’s contention that drug testing policies should be related to looking for drugs that give an unfair advantage. As in, anything that can enhance a player’s performance, like steroids. The committee does not think that marijuana is included in this category.
The committee doesn’t expect to ignore marijuana use. Its idea is to get away from a ban on marijuana, and go towards an educational approach that seeks to minimize negative effects for those who do use it. It wants to put a focus on performance enhancing drugs as the main testing issue; change the harm reduction policy for marijuana to be more similar to alcohol; realign with institutional testing; and provide education to students.
Should the NCAA choose to adopt a policy to remove marijuana from the list, it will go against WADA (World Anti-Doping Association), which sets rules for international competitions like the Olympics. However, it would be in line with other professional sports in the US like the NFL; which have gradually become more lenient with marijuana reform policies.
When should we expect an actual policy change? According to the statement, “The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports signaled its support for removing cannabis from the Association’s banned drug list and testing protocols. The committee will gather input from the membership this summer, with final action expected in the fall.”
Cannabis policies of professional sports
The big headline in April of this year, was that the NBA and Players Association, ratified an agreement that includes the end of marijuana testing and repercussions. Marijuana policy was already minimized in 2020, when there was a temporary stop put on general testing; replaced by testing only when there appeared to be problematic use. This policy was extended past 2020; and in October 2022, it was extended for the third year straight.
Before this change, it was NBA policy to enter a player into treatment or counseling if they had a positive marijuana test. At the second positive test, the player was still entered into a program, and also fined $25,000. The third infraction meant a five-game suspension without pay. All further infractions meant five more games added onto suspension time without pay.
The change in the NBA is due to a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and Players Association; which is expected to last for the next seven years. Should both sides have an issue with it before the time of expiry, it can be updated. The agreement includes policy related to other subjects as well, like eligibility requirements for MVP, salary increases, and prize money.
The NBA joins the NHL, which is the only professional sport in America that never had a standard testing policy for marijuana. Though the organization identifies problematic use, it has no specific requirement for what needs to happen in such circumstances. The NFL similarly created a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-2021 season; in which it ended its ban on the use of marijuana outside of the playing season, and increased the amount needed for a positive result.
The MLB also got way more lenient with marijuana in 2019. At that time marijuana was removed from the banned substances list. However, if an MLB player appears to have issues; they can still get tested. Though no longer a banned substance, cannabis is still considered a “drug of abuse.” The UFC got in on it too, and updated its policy on cannabis in 2021. Fighters no longer face repercussions for a positive test.
The only international organization that deals with this – WADA, is still not on board with cannabis. According to the international sports regulatory organization, cannabis violates “the spirit of sport.” However, given this, WADA only cares about what’s going on in a particular playing season, and did in 2013, increase the amount needed for a positive test to 150 ng/mL in the urine, from 15. While WADA doesn’t affect US sports, it acts as the major regulator for international sports competitions, like the Olympics, or FIFA.
It says a lot that an organization that works with student athletes, is now speaking about marijuana reform. Perhaps in a few years, it won’t be about removing cannabis from a banned substances list, but offering it to players. Given the increasing resources published on cannabis and athletics, this could soon be the case. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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