Have the major sports leagues reduced penalties for pot? Photo credit: CannaMD.
According to ESPN, “82% of NBA, NFL, NHL, and MBA teams play in a city where marijuana is either recreationally or medically legal.”
Furthermore, a majority of Americans live in a state that has legalized adult or medical cannabis use, confirms Politifact. And nine-in-10 believe it should be federally legal.
The “therapeutic use of cannabis by athletes has become increasingly more common,” explains Natural Products Insider. As a result of its growing acceptance, sports institutions are loosening their policies toward cannabis use — particularly the “big four.”
The big four include the National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Basketball League (NBA).
More recently, the leagues have been lifting restrictions on cannabis or lessening the punishments that go along with using cannabinoids. Each league presents varying policies, but all are less strict than they used to be. Here’s where the “big four” stands on cannabis.
ESPN acknowledges that “of the 31 teams in the NHL, 28 play in states where players have access to legal marijuana, whether it is for medicinal or recreational purposes.”
More than 90% of NHL teams are located in states where cannabis is legal, according to Harris Bricken law firm.
NHL officials do tests for cannabis. However, it is not on the banned substance list, Harris Bricken adds. Additionally, there is no punishment for a positive test. AXIOS mentions that if a player has extremely high levels of THC in their system, the situation is treated for health care reasons.
Accordingly, the league believes it doesn’t make sense to prohibit the use cannabis because the majority of the states have already legalized it.
The MLB lifted its restrictions on cannabis more recently. In December of 2019, officials removed the natural derivatives of cannabis from its banned substance list. Similar to the NHL, which also lifted their restrictions in 2019; the MLB only treats positive drug tests with abnormally high THC levels as they would alcohol addiction.
Cannabis Now states that this process includes “mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and potential discipline depending on conduct.”
Additionally, AXIOS notes that players are not to show up high to ball games because they can still face discipline for using or possessing the drug during events.
As of 2020, CBS Sports reports, “the NFL provides the harshest punishment of any major American sport when a player tests positive for marijuana, up to and including indefinite suspension.”
In 2020, the NFL reduced the testing window for THC from four months to just two weeks prior to competition. But, in 2021, officials lowered that to two weeks. They also removed suspension for positive THC tests under a Collective Bargaining Agreement. Additionally, the agreement also raises the threshold for positive tests from 35 to 150 nanograms, Ganjapreneur adds.
AXIOS states that “the new policy would “increase emphasis on clinical care over punishment.”
Furthermore, the NFL announced that it has also committed to researching cannabis, and it’s effective on conditions such as pain,
Anna Valent, the executive director of the nonprofit organization, Athletes for CARE, tells Forbes, “we are excited that the NFL is putting a small amount of funding into research on the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids, like CBD. We hope this is a beginning and means a shift in attitude towards cannabis as a treatment option for many conditions.”
Cannabis is on the list of banned substances in the NBA. Officials require players to submit to four random drug tests per year, according to Harris Bricken.
According to Cannabis Now, if a first-time player tests positive, they must enter a drug program. The second positive test will be a $25,000 fine, followed by a five-game suspension for the third, and a 10-game suspension for the fourth.
More recently, however, NBA officials stopped testing for cannabis. Cannabis Now states that “while cannabis consumption is still banned by the [NBA], cannabis drug testing for the current 2020-2021 season has been ceased due to citing the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.”
What’s to Come?
The future of cannabis in sports is not completely definite. However, past laws against the substance have slowly, but surely started to change.
Professional sports leagues may also look to “monetize” through partnerships with industry players, explains Foley and Lardner Law Firm. The firm further explains that forming alliances between cannabis brands and professional athletes “can help offset financial losses brought on by COVID-19.”
In the meantime, the law firm states, these recent changes from the Big Four “may foreshadow a coming together of the sports and cannabis industries, manifested in the form of cross-sectional partnerships and endorsement deals — a far cry from the days of CBA drug policy prohibitions on marijuana use.”