Cannabis reform has been sweeping across America since 1996 when the first state, California, voted to legalize medical cannabis. Since that time a number of states have followed suit in legalizing medical cannabis, and eight states have voted to legalize cannabis altogether. Washington D.C. has also legalized cannabis for both medical and adult use.
But while cannabis reform has occurred in society, most professional sports leagues have not evolved past full prohibition. The National Hockey League does not list cannabis as a banned substance, but Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) all prohibit cannabis, no exceptions. This despite an overwhelming majority of teams in those leagues being located in a state or country (Canada) that has reformed its cannabis laws in some form.
As the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out before, cannabis has been legalized in some form (at least cannabidiol and/or low THC) in every state in America except five states (Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota). It is worth pointing out that Nebraska has decriminalized possession of cannabis, which puts it ahead of professional sports leagues that punish its players for possessing cannabis in states where it is a crime. However, Nebraska does not have a MLB, NFL, or NBA team.
There are only two teams from the NFL, NBA and/or MLB in the referenced list of full prohibition states, and they are both located in Indiana (the Pacers and the Colts). Indiana’s Governor currently has a medical cannabis bill awaiting his signature, which if signed, would result in zero NFL, NBA, or MLB professional teams being located in a state where cannabis is completely prohibited. A recent tweet by local Indiana media suggests that the Governor is very likely to sign the bill, as seen below:
— FOX59 News (@FOX59) April 25, 2017
Soon there will be no MLB, NFL, or NBA teams located in full prohibition states barring some type of league expansion. Players in these major sports leagues can legally purchase cannabis for adult use purposes right now in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, provided that they are 21 years old or older. Soon the same will be true for Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and California. California in particular is home to many MLB, NFL, and NBA teams. Legalization is also coming to Canada next summer at the federal level.
It’s beyond time that the NBA, NFL, MLB, and any other sports leagues that prohibit cannabis by its competitors make a serious effort and re-evaluate their stance against cannabis. They need to get on the right side of history and allow the players to make the safer choice. Free the plant!
image via WellandGood.com
Cannabis has been prohibited in the United States since 1937. Professional sports leagues have not always prohibited cannabis, if for any reason because drug testing in athletics for banned substances did not begin until 1968. Drug testing athletes was seen as being completely acceptable back then. A Gallup poll from 1969 found that 88% of Americans supported cannabis prohibition.
A lot has changed in the decades that followed the 1969 poll. More and More Americans are realizing that cannabis prohibition was built on lies and propaganda, and not sound science. Zoom forward to today, and support for legalizing cannabis in society has never been greater. A recent CBS News poll found a record level of support for ending cannabis prohibition. Per the poll:
Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.
Presumably many of the poll participants are fans of professional sports, and the Uncle Cliffy team thinks it’s a safe assumption that the fans’ support for legalization in society would also be applied to legalization in professional sports leagues. In fact, support is likely even higher (no pun intended) for athletes. A recent poll conducted by Yahoo and Marist College found that 71% of sports fans would have the same level of respect, or more respect, for a professional athlete that chose to consume cannabis.
With such a record level of support, why are professional sports league officials and team owners clinging to prohibition? Fans are where the revenue comes from for professional sports leagues, and they have spoken loud and clear. So why aren’t leagues listening and engaging in a meaningful discussion about cannabis prohibition, instead of punting the issue down the road and hiding behind the delay tactic of claiming that ‘there needs to be more cannabis research‘?
Cannabis has been legalized in some form (at least CBD) in every state in America except five states (Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota). There are only two teams from the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and/or Major League Baseball (MLB) in those states, and they are both in Indiana (the Pacers and the Colts). Indiana’s Governor currently has a medical cannabis bill awaiting his signature, which if signed, would result in zero NFL, NBA, or MLB professional teams being located in a state where cannabis is completely prohibited.
Cannabis has been proven to help treat many ailments, is legal in some form in a vast majority of American states, league fans support it, cannabis is safer than alcohol (which leagues widely embrace), so why not allow athletes to make the safer choice if they choose to do so? The Uncle Cliffy team is by no means saying that cannabis use should be required by athletes. What we are saying, and what an overwhelming majority of professional sports fans are saying, is that athletes should not be punished for choosing cannabis. That demand is backed by science and polling, as well as logic, reasoning, and compassion. Give fans and athletes what they want. Free the plant!
A growing number of professional athletes, both current and retired, are coming out in support of cannabis reform. Cannabis prohibition is a failed public policy, and has ruined many athletes’ careers over the decades. This despite the fact that cannabis has been proven to be effective at treating many medical conditions and is 114 times safer than alcohol.
Eight states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and 28 (soon to be 29) states have legalized cannabis for medical use beyond just CBD oil. Washington D.C. has legalized cannabis for both uses. Canada has legalized medical cannabis at the national level, and is set to legalize cannabis for adult use by next summer. A number of countries are also reforming their cannabis laws.
Yet, most professional sports leagues still fully prohibit the use of cannabis for any purpose. A big exception is the National Hockey League (NHL) which does not list cannabis on its list of banned substances. The NHL is a glowing example of how a professional sports league can end cannabis prohibition and continue on without it being an issue. Why are more leagues not following the NHL’s lead?
Yahoo and Marist College conducted an extensive cannabis poll, the results of which were released today. The poll involved a number of cannabis questions, with two of them specifically touching on sports and cannabis. The results showed overwhelming support for professional athletes using cannabis for both adult and medical use. The two specific questions, and their results, were:
Would you have more or less respect for your favorite sports athlete if you learned they used marijuana in their personal life? (68% answered that it ‘makes no difference’, 28% said they would have ‘less respect’, and 3% said that they would have ‘more respect’)
Do you approve or disapprove of a professional sports athlete using marijuana for pain? (69% answered that they would ‘approve’, 26% would ‘disapprove’, and 5% were unsure)
These poll results are further proof that team owners and league officials are on the wrong side of history. A combined 71% of poll participants would have equal or more respect for a professional athlete if they found out that they consumed cannabis, and not just for medical purposes. That’s significantly more than the support for national legalization (60%) by American voters, and the same as the level of support for league medical cannabis legalization among NFL players (also 71%).
Professional sports league officials need to give the fans what they want. Fans want to see their favorite athletes in competition, and not on the bench serving an unnecessary suspension, or even worse, out of the league entirely. Cannabis prohibition provides zero benefit to a professional sports league, just as it provides zero benefit to society outside of stadiums and arenas. If you know of a player, coach, or someone else that is on the fence about supporting cannabis reform in sports, the Uncle Cliffy team encourages you to share these poll results with them.
When it comes to opposing cannabis, one of the ‘go to’ talking points for opponents is that ‘there needs to be more research’ before reform can occur. This is a common talking point for cannabis opponents both inside and outside of professional sports. It is a talking point that, for better or worse, resonates with many people that are on the fence about supporting reform. It is a good thing, in that the need to research cannabis is definitely something that should be supported.
But, it can be a two-edged sword because when people hear the ‘need for more research’ line from opponents, it makes it sound like the cannabis plant hasn’t been studied very much over the years. Opponents know this, which is why they often go to this delay tactic. Calling for more research is a way for an opponent to oppose cannabis reform, while coming across as not necessarily being against cannabis. It helps them avoid direct confrontation and delay the debate.
Opponents who use this tactic are glossing over one very big fact – there is an enormous amount of cannabis research that has already been conducted, and is easy to locate. PubMed.gov houses the online ‘U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health’ database. A quick search for the term ‘marijuana’ yields 25,124 returns as of this post, as you can see in the screen shot below:
As you can see from the ‘results by year’ chart in the upper right hand corner of the screen shot, the amount of cannabis research has been growing significantly in recent years – the same years that the ‘need for more research’ claim has been pushed by opponents more and more. To put into perspective how cannabis research compares to other substances, look at the search for one of the most common opioid prescriptions, hydrocodone. As of this posting, a search on PubMed.gov only yields 948 results for research, as seen below:
Toradol, which is widely used in the National Football League (NFL), as described by Eugene Monroe in his article for The Player’s Tribune, only yields 742 results. Even tylenol returns less study results than cannabis (20,540). For league officials to say that ‘there needs to be more research’ is a slap in the face to compassion and logic. As the math itself proves, the cannabis plant has been researched more than substances that are widely embraced by professional sports leagues.
Cannabis is non-toxic, and has been proven to be an effective treatment for all types of conditions and ailments. One study found that cannabis is 114 time safer than alcohol, a substance that is widely embraced by professional sports leagues that prohibit cannabis. The Uncle Cliffy team recognizes that there will always be a need to add to the body of cannabis research that already exists.
However, we also believe that there is clearly enough research and other evidence available RIGHT NOW for league officials to conclude that cannabis prohibition has failed, and that allowing players to use cannabis is a smart, safe move. The Uncle Cliffy team invites league officials in professional sports leagues that prohibit cannabis to take a strong look at the available cannabis research. We have been compiling a list of some of the more relevant cannabis research on this site to make it easier for people to learn the truth about the cannabis plant and how athletes can benefit from its use. That list can be viewed at this link here.
Recently it was revealed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones supports a complete end to the National Football League’s ban on cannabis. Reports stated that in a private meeting with other National Football League (NFL) owners Jerry Jones expressed his support for reforming the NFL’s cannabis policy, and that Jones even tried lobbying the other owners to join him with their support. In many ways the news was very encouraging. However, in at least one way the report was troubling.
According to media accounts, one of Jerry Jones’ selling points to other owners was that cannabis policy reform could be a ‘big bargaining chip’ in upcoming collective bargaining with NFL players. That aspect of the news was disappointing, in that players’ health and livelihood should never be considered a ‘bargaining chip.’ Cannabis has been proven to treat a number of ailments, especially chronic pain and brain injuries, and has been proven to reduce a person’s reliance on opioids.
It is no secret that the NFL is experiencing a painkiller abuse crisis, and has been for quite some time. A study from 2011 looked at retired NFL players and their painkiller use. The study found that retired NFL players used painkillers at four times the rate of the rest of society. Americans only make up 5% of the world’s population, but consume 80% of the world’s opioids, so keep that in mind when you hear the stat about NFL players versus non-NFL members of society. The consumption rate is staggering and saddening at the same time.
Considering the fact that numerous studies have shown that cannabis can reduce opioid consumption, one would think that alone would be enough to get the NFL to end its ban on cannabis. The league and its owners shouldn’t be using the policy change for posturing purposes, and should instead be taking a lead on the issue since such a move would be based on sound science. Cannabis literally has the ability to help save NFL players’ lives. As such, allowing players to consume cannabis should never be seen as a ‘bargaining chip.’ To say otherwise shows a tremendous lack of compassion.
Cannabis prohibition is harmful. Not kind of harmful. Not mostly harmful. Prohibition is entirely harmful. There is no benefit whatsoever to enforcing cannabis prohibition on grown adults in a professional sports league. The NFL’s cannabis testing policy is particularly harmful in that it has such a low threshold for cannabis metabolites in a players’ system compared to other leagues.
The NFL has a current threshold of 35 ng/ml of THC metabolites for a player to be considered as failing the drug test. It wasn’t that long ago that the threshold was even lower in the NFL, at 15 ng/ml. Compare that to the Olympics, which has a threshold of 150 ng/ml. Why is it that 35 ng/ml is seen as being incredibly harmful to an NFL player, to the point that his career could be completely ended via penalties and sanctions, but an Olympic athlete would still be so far below the threshold that there would be no issue whatsoever. The National Hockey League doesn’t test at all. How does that make any sense?
NFL owners, and the league as a whole, will benefit greatly from reforming its cannabis laws. If the owners ultimately want something in return for refraining from clinging to the failed policies of the past, here are some things they will get in return for ending cannabis prohibition in the NFL:
- Lower consumption rates of alcohol, a substance of which has been found to be 114 time safer than alcohol, a substance which is widely embraced by the NFL.
- Better health outcomes for players that experience brain injuries.
- Less use of opioids, which are ruining players’ lives.
- Lower consumption rates of prescription drugs for sleep disorders, anxiety, and migraines, many of which have harmful side effects.
- Having players on the field competing rather than serving a suspension for a plant that is legal for adult use in 8 states, and for medical use in 28 states (plus D.C.!)
- Supporting equality by eliminating a policy that has been proven to be a form of institutional racism.
- It would put the league in line with a majority of Americans that want to end prohibition, many of them NFL fans. It would also put the league in line with an overwhelming majority of sports media figures who feel the same way.
The Uncle Cliffy team urges players to push for a full and immediate end to cannabis prohibition in the NFL. It’s the only way to truly ensure that selective enforcement is eliminated in the league, that all players can consume medical cannabis if needed, and that players are measured by their skills on the field and their moral character, rather than the amount of cannabis metabolites they have in their bodily fluids. A ‘medical only’ approach will not go far enough, as it will no doubt result in some players getting a pass while other suffering players continue to be unfairly targeted. A players’ health is not a bargaining chip in any negotiation, and NFL players need to recognize that fact. Stand up for your right to make the safer choice!
image via Wikipedia
It is no secret that many professional athletes use painkillers at an alarming rate. A study from 2011 looked at retired NFL players and their painkiller use. The study found that 7% of retired NFL players still used painkillers on a regular basis. That’s four times the rate of the rest of society. The statistic is for players that are retired. It’s a safe assumption that the already alarmingly high number for retired players is even greater for current players. An ESPN survey of NFL players put the number at 46%, although that statistic is based off of player views, and not actual tracked usage.
42% of surveyed NFL players stated that they knew a fellow player that had become addicted to painkillers. If those numbers aren’t horrifying enough, consider how widespread the use of the harmful painkiller Toradol was/is in the NFL. Sports cannabis freedom fighter Eugene Monroe provided the following description of a game day ritual in an article he wrote for The Player’s Tribune:
Before kickoff on game day, in NFL locker rooms all over the country, players wait in line to drop their pants. We call it the T Train.
I play for the Baltimore Ravens, and if we’re at home there’s a small office sectioned off from the training room in M&T Bank Stadium that we use. If we’re on the road the visiting locker rooms don’t usually have sufficient space, so we just go to a corner of the training room. The T Train is nothing more than a bunch of really large guys waiting to pull their pants down to get shot in the butt with Toradol, a powerful painkiller that will help them make it through the game and its aftermath.
Instead of an injection, some players opt for an oral form of Toradol. The effects are the same, though, and can last through the next day. Some guys don’t feel any pain for two days. Of course, that’s the point of these drugs — they block out the pain and reduce inflammation. But they also temporarily mask injury. That’s not a good thing if you get hurt during a game — you might need to address your injuries right away. But you feel nothing, so you do nothing.
The NFL is currently facing a lawsuit over its overuse of the painkiller Toradol. Cannabis has been touted by NFL players as being a better alternative to painkillers. When asked in the previously cited ESPN survey which was better for recovery or pain control, Toradol or cannabis, 41% chose cannabis versus 32% that chose painkillers (27% chose neither).
If someone plays a contact sport long enough, they are going to get injured. In some of those cases, the injury will be severe enough that the athlete will need to come up with a pain management strategy. Sadly, many of them will be pushed towards opioids. A growing body of evidence is showing that not only is cannabis a safer, effective alternative to opioids, but that people can actually be weaned off of opioids by using medical cannabis.
A recent study looked at records of hospital discharges during 1997–2014, and found a 13% lower rate of opioid use in states that had legalized medical cannabis. The same study also found a 23% lower rate of opioid-related hospitalizations. It’s because of studies like these that the Uncle Cliffy team promotes cannabis over painkillers. Painkillers are harmful and can even cause death. Cannabis literally has the power to save lives. It’s beyond time that professional sports leagues recognized the facts and quit pushing players towards harmful substances instead of allowing them to make the safer choice.
Professional athletes have turned to cannabis for many years for wellness, relaxation, and/or recreational purposes. Cannabis is non-toxic, and has been proven to be 114 times safer than alcohol. Cannabis prohibition is a failed, harmful policy which are all reasons why the Uncle Cliffy team fights to free the plant and help kill the stigma surrounding responsible cannabis use.
Calls to end cannabis prohibition in professional sports, especially in the National Football League (NFL) have been growing in number. As long as the NFL and other sports leagues prohibit cannabis use among players, they are supporting and contributing to the needless destruction of some athletes’ careers and lives.
Cannabis prohibition is a racist policy, both in society and in professional sports leagues. African Americans are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis, even though consumption rates between African Americans and other races are roughly the same. In parts of Missouri specifically, the racial disparity for cannabis arrests for African Americans is even greater, with African Americans being 18 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis. If an African American NFL player is 18 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis in certain parts of Missouri compared to whites, they are also 18 times as likely to be punished by the NFL for cannabis compared to their Caucasian colleagues. There’s no other way around it.
A strong majority (60%) of the American public supports ending cannabis prohibition, with recent polling showing majority support specifically for ending cannabis prohibition in professional sports leagues. 71% of NFL players think that medical cannabis should be legal in every state in America. 76.5% of sports media members support ending cannabis prohibition.
Support for cannabis reform in leagues like the NFL is at a fevered pitch. Proof of that came today when it was reported that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came out in support of ending cannabis prohibition in the NFL while talking at a recent owner’s only meeting. Per Pro Football Talk:
Jones also raised the question of the NFL’s position on marijuana. Jones, per a source who heard the comments, wants the league to drop its prohibition on marijuana use. Jones was reminded that the issue falls under the umbrella of collective bargaining, which would require the players to make one or more concessions in exchange for significant changes to the marijuana prohibition.
Separately, the league office reiterated to PFT its position that any changes to the substance-abuse policy would occur within the confines of labor negotiations, and that the league is willing to listen to the medical community about any potential changes to the rules regarding marijuana.
This is a very significant development in the sports cannabis world. Jerry Jones is obviously not the ‘average owner,’ not by a long shot. Jerry Jones has owned the Dallas Cowboys since 1989 and is one of the most recognizable figures in all of sports. The Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable sports team on the entire planet. If Jerry Jones supports ending cannabis prohibition in the NFL, it’s an endorsement that could have serious influence on not only the NFL, but other sports leagues that prohibit cannabis.
Earlier this year NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came out in direct opposition to cannabis reform in the NFL. That was disheartening news at the time, as it had been previously thought leading up to Roger Goodell’s comments that there was a solid chance that the NFL would take an objective look at the overwhelming available evidence that cannabis helps treat many ailments and make the logical choice to update the NFL’s cannabis policy accordingly. Unfortunately that didn’t appear to happen.
Hopefully Jerry Jones’ recent comments will be backed up by some further action on his part, and that he will continue to urge owners to support ending cannabis prohibition in the NFL. The Uncle Cliffy team doesn’t like seeing cannabis reform being used as a ‘bargaining chip’ against players, and doesn’t feel that NFL players should have to give up anything in return for being able to use a non-toxic plant that is legal in many states, but this is still a significant development. It will be interesting to see how players react. Earlier this year the NFL Players Association announced that it would be putting out policy changes that would take a less punitive approach to cannabis policy.
image via Star-Telegram
Both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have a team located in Toronto, Canada (Raptors and Blue Jays, respectively). In the past there was also an NBA team in Vancouver (the Grizzlies, now in Memphis) and a MLB team in Montreal (the Expos, now the Washington Nationals). A significant number of athletes that compete in other leagues cross back and forth between the United States/Canadian border for competition purposes, in addition to those in the MLB and NBA.
Because of these factors, a big shift in cannabis policy in Canada would be a big deal to professional sports leagues that are based in America, especially if American policy didn’t evolve along with Canada’s. Canada’s government recently announced a goal date to implement cannabis legalization for adult use, which is something that has been talked about often ever since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015. Per CBC:
The Liberal government will announce legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018.
CBC News has learned that the legislation will be announced during the week of April 10 and will broadly follow the recommendation of a federally appointed task force that was chaired by former liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan.
The legal age for cannabis consumption in Canada is currently proposed to be 18 years or older. That is three years younger than any state in America that has voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Most of the professional sports teams located in Canada are in the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL does not list cannabis on its list of banned substances, so legalization in Canada will not affect athletes in those leagues from a drug testing perspective.
However, there is another issue that even cannabis consuming NHL players still have to deal with. As previously discussed on the Uncle Cliffy blog, when people are trying to enter the United States they are asked, among other questions, if they have ever consumed cannabis. If they answer in the affirmative, they run the risk of being denied entry into the United States. That is what happened to Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, and could happen to athletes who are traveling from Canada for competition in the United States. An adult athlete would be able to legally consume cannabis in Canada after legalization, protected by a federal law from a neighboring country, but that legal act could mean the difference between being able to make it to the next game on the road trip, or being stranded in Canada, stuck in legal limbo. How would a league handle that situation, as it’s a very real possibility in the future?
Any athlete who is competing in a situation that involves drug testing will essentially be forced to either roll the dice, or refrain from cannabis consumption while in Canada. This despite cannabis being legal in Canada soon, and despite cannabis being proven to be 114 times safer than alcohol which is a substance widely embraced by leagues that prohibit cannabis.
THC can stay in a person’s body for as long as 100 days according to at least one study, which means that an athlete runs the risk of being penalized well after the consumption took place. And that doesn’t even consider what type of consumption method or for what purpose the athlete consumed. The athlete could have very well consumed cannabis in a smokeless form, of a cannabinoid composition level that does not even create euphoria, and entirely for medical purposes. All of this being 100% legal in Canada in the not-so-distant future for adult use, and currently already legal for medical use. How does that make any sense?
The NHL has proven that cannabis can be removed from a league’s banned substances list and that the sky will remain intact. 8 states in America have legalized cannabis for adult use, as has Washington D.C., and soon, the entire nation of Canada will also have legalized. Athletes shouldn’t have to have their careers put at risk, or even worse ended entirely, because they chose to use a substance, the legalization of which is supported by 60% of Americans.
Professional sports leagues may not be able to change public policy in America to eliminate potential issues around cannabis use and entry into the United States, but professional sports leagues can recognize that prohibition has failed, and that league policies should get on the right side of history. Cannabis legalization is coming to Canada in 2018, and likely to more states in America by the end of 2018. One state that is likely to legalize in 2018 is Michigan which borders Canada, and which is home to the Tigers (MLB), Pistons (NBA), and Lions (NFL). Other states will likely legalize cannabis for medical use by the end of 2018. All professional sports leagues need to follow suit and free the plant!
Franco Harris was drafted 13th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft. Franco became only the fourth rookie to rush for 1,000 yards. Franco Harris also was on the receiving end of the famous “Immaculate Reception” pass from Terry Bradshaw.
Harris would go on to play for the Steelers for 12 seasons, with his 13th and final season being with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. In total Franco Harris rushed 2,949 times for 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns. Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
He rushed for 1,000 yards or more eight seasons and for more than 100 yards in 47 games. He also caught 307 passes for 2,287 yards and nine touchdowns. His career rushing total and his combined net yardage figure of 14,622 both ranked as the third highest marks in pro football history at the time of his retirement.
Harris, who was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, was an All-AFC choice in 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1977 and first- or second-team All-Pro six times. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls. Franco played in five AFC championships – missing a sixth because of injury – and four Super Bowls.
In Super Bowl IX, when the Steelers won their first-ever league title with a 16-6 victory over Minnesota, Harris rushed for 158 yards, compared to just 17 yards rushing for the entire Viking team. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Harris held numerous Super Bowl and postseason game records by the end of his career. The most notable included 24 points and 354 yards rushing in four Super Bowls and 17 touchdowns and 1,556 yards rushing in 19 postseason playoff games.
Franco Harris is not only a retired legendary football player, he is also an entrepreneur, a former Democratic presidential elector, and has been a pillar of the Pennsylvania community since his retirement. In every measurable way Mr. Franco is a successful, respected member of society. So it was very significant when he recently expressed support for the NFL allowing players to use medical cannabis for pain management.
“I will tell you this, if it ever comes to a point where I do need pain management, I’d feel very lucky and happy now that we have medicinal marijuana in Pennsylvania.” Franco said recently according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“The NFL is reviewing its position on medical marijuana,” Harris said evenly. “They’re really reviewing their whole pain management regimen and how those things are handled, but if you don’t mind me giving you my personal feeling (why the hell would I mind?), I feel in any state that has approved medical marijuana (as 28 states hosting 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams have), the league should remove medical marijuana from being a banned substance. I feel that recreational marijuana should be a banned substance in the NFL, but medical marijuana has a different composition.” Franco said according to the article.
Franco Harris’ support for medical cannabis is very helpful for medical use among players, but it would have been nice to see him extend that to adult use as well. Hopefully that’s just a matter of further education on the topic of cannabis prohibition, which is a tremendously harmful, racist policy. As we have pointed out there before on the Uncle Cliffy blog, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that African Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, even though consumption rates are roughly the same for both races.
In St. Louis specifically, one study found that African Americans were arrested 18 times more often than white people for cannabis. This is tremendously important because many sports leagues treat a legal cannabis issue such as an arrest as grounds for league sanctions. By enforcing cannabis prohibition in that manner, professional sports leagues are perpetuating the systematic racism that is so ingrained in America’s criminal justice system. If cannabis is only allowed for medical purposes in the NFL and other sports leagues, it doesn’t address this very important issue.
Hopefully Franco Harris, and other athletes that are hesitant to end cannabis prohibition in sports altogether, learn more about prohibition as a whole, and how harmful it is. The Uncle Cliffy team understands that cannabis reform in athletics is a fairly new conversation that is occurring, and that support for full reform is going to be an evolving process. We encourage professional athletes, both current and retired, to reach out to us to share information about cannabis reform and to collaborate on efforts. If players, fans, and cannabis advocates everywhere unite behind one message we will free the plant. A huge tip of the hat to Franco Harris, and to all athletes speaking out in support of reform!
image via Penn Live
College athletes have been suspended throughout the years for many things, most of the time for good reason. Sometimes athletes are penalized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), sometimes by the university itself, and sometimes its both. Regulators and universities have a lot of discretion when it comes to handing out punishments. For some reason cannabis penalties are particularly harsh in many cases, which is unfortunate.
The latest example of this recently occurred at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Mike Bianchi wrote a fantastic article for the Orlando Sentinel in which he accurately captures how ridiculous the penalties are for two UCF football players that were each suspended for failing a drug test for cannabis leading up to a bowl game:
Two UCF football players get suspended for not one, not two, not three, but SIX games next year because they tested positive for marijuana.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is criminal — much more criminal than the decriminalized act of college students smoking a little weed.
Insanely, two promising young UCF football players — sophomore receiver Tristan Payton and redshirt freshman cornerback Nevelle Clark — have been suspended for half of next season because they tested positive for pot during NCAA-mandated drug tests taken in conjunction with the Knights’ Cure Bowl appearance.
In the case of Tristan Payton and Nevelle Clark, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime. The Uncle Cliffy team does not support cannabis use by people under the age of 21, unless it’s by a legally registered cannabis patient. These men are not over 21 years old, but they are adults. What good does it do to take away half of a season of their college careers? These young men have worked extremely hard to get to where they are at, and while they may have violated school policy, are their acts so egregious that they should be punished so harshly? Is there a more appropriate course of action, similar to other actions taken when no one was harmed and nothing was damaged by the students?
Some cannabis opponents may say ‘this teaches the athletes a lesson, and sends a message.’ These young men have caused no harm to anyone with their actions. Did they break a rule? Of course they did. But is the violation worth taking six games away from them, the experiences from which they will never get back? All because they consumed a substance that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol, a substance which is widely embraced for profit purposes by the university, and universities throughout the NCAA?
Had these young men consumed alcohol, would they have received such a harsh punishment? What exactly is the lesson here? If the lesson is to highlight the hypocrisy of cannabis prohibition, then these excessive penalties have definitely accomplished the objective. Had these players consumed any number of other substances, most of which are significantly more harmful than cannabis, they likely would have passed the drug test because it wouldn’t have stayed in the players’ system, but because cannabis can stay in a person’s system for up to 100 days, they failed.
The mandatory drug test that the players had to be subjected to leading into the bowl game detected cannabis in their system, but not how long the cannabis was in their system. Again, these young men didn’t do anything harmful to anyone around them, and the cannabis that was detected in their system could be the result of use from several weeks prior. A use that obviously didn’t cause any issues because it didn’t become a problem until the NCAA and the university made it a problem.
Punishing college athletes with overly harsh penalties for cannabis consumption does nothing to help the students. In many cases, it results in the athlete’s career being completely hindered, or even sadder, ended completely. Keep in mind, even after these players serve their suspensions and try to re-establish their playing careers, they will likely have to deal with the stigma that comes with being unfairly judged for cannabis use for years to come.
Cannabis prohibition in college sports is not based on science and logic, it’s based on politics and profit. If that were different athletes wouldn’t be disproportionately punished for recreational cannabis use compared to other violations, and there would be specific exemptions from penalties for players that use cannabis for medical purposes (which is legal now for registered patients in Florida by the way). If these players had opioids in their systems from painkillers administered by university staff, would we even be talking about this? Given the current opioid epidemic in Florida, what is the real message being sent by these overly harsh suspensions?