A big push has been underway to try to convince the National Football League (NFL) to update its harmful cannabis policy. Currently the NFL considers cannabis to be a banned substance, and any player that submits to a drug test and crosses the 35 nanograms per milliliter THC limit is penalized. This despite record setting levels of support from the American public for cannabis legalization in society (per Gallup), and a majority level of support for professional athletes using legal cannabis in particular.
Eight states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and nearly 30 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Yet, the NFL clings to its outdated policy. Why? It was the hope of many that the NFL would be on its way to changing its cannabis policy after it was recently announced that the NFL Players Association would be proposing a ‘less punitive’ cannabis policy to the league. That hope was short lived, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear during his ‘state of the league’ address that the NFL has no plans on the horizon to make any changes. Below is an excerpt from a transcript released by The Cannabist:
Q: Given that medical marijuana or recreational marijuana is legal in many states, including Colorado, do you foresee any adjustment to that policy or any review of that part of league drug policy?
Goodell: “We always review our drug policy. That is something that our medical professionals do on a regular basis. We have had discussions with them in the past about that, not recently. They have opposed that. We are not restricted obviously by the state laws. It’s an NFL policy and we believe it’s the correct policy, for now, in the best interest of our players and the long-term health of our players. I don’t foresee a change in that clearly in the short term, but we’ll continue to be in touch with our medical personnel. If that changes, we’ll discuss it.”
Q: To be a bit more specific on the marijuana question, you said two years ago at the summit with Jack Welch that if there was more research done for medical marijuana for players, you would consider approving it. There has been a lot of research in the last couple years. Players like Jim McMahon and Kyle Turley have talked about how it has helped them. Where does the league stand on the issue of medical marijuana for players and ex-players?
Goodell: “I don’t distinguish between the medical marijuana and marijuana issue in the context of my previous answer. Our medical professionals look at that. That is exactly what we talked to them about. I would assume that it would be used in a medical circumstance or if it is even in recreational, our medical professionals look at it in both ways and determine whether they think it is in the best interest to do that. Yes, I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view. Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”
The NFL’s approach to cannabis is harmful to players. It forces players to use more harmful substances like pharmaceutical painkillers that often result in a lifelong battle with addiction for the athlete that is left with little choice in the matter. The current policy results in players like Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson being suspended for 10 games. Seantrel Henderson uses medical cannabis to treat Crohn’s disease and has had to endure multiple surgeries that has resulted in part of Seantrel’s intestines being removed.
If the NFL (and its doctors) truly cared for its players, cases like Seantrel Henderson’s would never exist. The NFL’s cannabis policy is clearly not driven by science, but rather the personal political opinions of just a handful of people in power.