Weed in Professional Sports

Weed in Professional Sports
Cannabis rules and regulations are evolving more rapidly now than ever before, at least at the state level. At the time of writing, 36 states have implemented medical cannabis programs and 18 of those have adult-use programs or more commonly known as recreational cannabis. Considering the world of professional sports tends to have a progressive stance on most social and health issues, most people are surprised to find that life as a professional athlete often means walking a fine line or in some cases, avoiding completely, the use of cannabis regardless of your justification. With the recent events surrounding American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson and her ban from the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for THC after putting down an astounding 10.72 second 100-meter dash during the US Olympic Trials, we decided to take a look at weed in professional sports.
Student Athletes
Before diving into professional sports, let’s take a quick glance at how college athletes have to approach cannabis. Currently (2021), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), you know…the same organization that until very recently prohibited college athletes from being financially compensated for the use of their image, unsurprisingly also prohibits the use of any cannabinoids by NCAA athletes. This means that not only are college athletes prohibited from roasting a bowl to relax after a big win (or loss), but they’re not even allowed to utilize non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD, which has become popular for sports related pain relief. We can only hope that in due time, the NCAA will get on-board with others and recognize that cannabinoids are not something they should be concerned about when testing student athletes.
With over 15 million viewers on average tuning into every NFL game, the league has surprisingly taken very little action towards cannabis policy reform until as recently as last year (2020). In March 2020, the NFL changed up their policy around how players who use cannabis are treated. Previously, players could be and were suspended for cannabis use. The new NFL policy is a welcome change to the league’s players and fans who support cannabis freedom. This new policy, which was implemented in March 2020, eliminates player suspensions for cannabis use (in most cases). Additionally, the window in which players are tested for cannabis, which was previously a four-month window, has been reduced to two weeks. Lastly, the new cannabis policy increased the THC metabolite threshold in place that distinguishes between a THC positive result and a negative result. This threshold, which was previously 35 ng/ml has been increased over four times that amount, now coming in at 150 ng/ml.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has thankfully taken a progressive stance on players using cannabis in more recent times. The MLB listed cannabis as a “drug of abuse” until 2019/2020 when the decision was made to remove both THC and CBD from this list. Although players are permitted to use cannabis medically and recreationally, don’t expect to see your favorite slugger taking a bong rip in the dugout. The league still prohibits players from being under the influence of cannabis during games and practice. They also don’t allow cannabis sponsorships.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a unique situation and a great example of how a progressive, sensible commissioner can make all the difference. Technically, cannabinoids remain on the NBA’s banned substances list (along with about 224 other substances), however, in 2020, the NBA decided to stop randomly drug testing players for cannabinoids. Canna-loving NBA players can largely thank NBA commissioner, Adam Silver for this forward-thinking move. Commissioner Silver has stated that he feels the league doesn’t need to “act as Big Brother” in terms of testing players for cannabinoids. Additionally, he has expressed his interest in “the science when it comes to medical marijuana” as well as the fact that he “does not see cannabis use as an ethical or moral issue”. Hopefully, commissioners of other sports leagues will begin adopting the same logical and sensible view on athlete cannabis use as commissioner Silver.
The National Hockey League (NHL) is also a beacon of hope for professional athletes when it comes to cannabis use policies. The NHL was one of the first major sports leagues to remove THC from its banned substances list and although the league tests players for THC, there are no repercussions if a player tests positive. 
Another professional sports league that has decided to “get with the times” is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). As of January 2021, the UFC has done away with punishing fighters who test positive for THC.
Formula One and IndyCar
The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) which oversees both Formula One and IndyCar has a pretty strict anti-cannabis policy. The FIA has implemented the same World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) cannabis policies that many other professional athletic organizations, like the International Olympics Committee (IOC) utilize. This policy strictly prohibits cannabis use with the exception of CBD.
The Future of Weed and Sports
There’s certainly a trend here and a positive one at that. Most fans probably find it shocking that the topic of punishing professional athletes for cannabis use is still a conversation we’re having, especially with more recent situations like what we’ve seen play out for Sha’Carri Richardson. Just like the roughly 14 states that still live like they’re in 1990, blasting anti-cannabis propaganda from the rooftops, the professional athletic organizations who still think the “war on drugs” is a “thing”, will eventually realize they’ve been on the wrong side of history. Until then, if you’re an athlete, make sure you know all of the policies and regulations around cannabis use in your sport before you rip a bowl on the way to your next event. If you’re just a fan (the category that most of us fall into), don’t be afraid to reach out to these athletic organizations and let them know how you feel (professionally, of course). The more pro-cannabis voices and opinions that they hear, the higher the chance that they’ll begin to reconsider their stance.
As always, we want to hear from our readers! Are you an athlete or know one who has experienced issues or punishment because of cannabis use? We would love to hear your story!

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