The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) current cannabis policy is extremely strict, as proven by the 15 ng/mL THC metabolite threshold for player drug testing. That threshold is the lowest out of all of the major professional sports leagues, with the exception of the National Hockey League, which does not include cannabis on its list of banned substances. To put the NBA’s threshold into perspective, Olympic athletes are held to a threshold that is ten times greater than what NBA athletes are held to.
Clifford Robinson was the victim of the league’s harmful cannabis policy on multiple occasions, having been suspended for cannabis use no less than three times during his career, including a 5 game suspension during the playoffs. Robinson knows first hand that the NBA has been on the wrong side of history for a long time, which is why he has been leading the effort to bring reform to the NBA. As it stands right now, the NBA has no current plans to reform its harmful cannabis policy.
That could change with news breaking today that retired NBA commissioner David Stern now supports taking cannabis off the NBA’s list of banned substances. Per excerpts from an article posted by Sports Illustrated:
“I’m now at the point where, personally, I think [marijuana] probably should be removed from the ban list,” Stern said. “I think there is universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal.”
“It’s a completely different perception,” Stern added. “I think we have to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement and let you do what is legal in your state. If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I think you should be allowed to do what’s legal in your state.”
David Stern served as head of the NBA from 1984-2014, which includes the entire 18 year period in which Clifford Robinson played in the league. David Stern’s endorsement of cannabis reform in the NBA is a great thing, and should be celebrated, but it begs the question, ‘why now and not sooner?’ After all, medical cannabis has been legal at the state level since 1996 when California votes approved medical cannabis legalization. Since that time a number of states have followed suit. Cannabis became legal for adult use in Colorado (home of the Denver Nuggets) in 2012. If David Stern’s reasoning is that players should be able to do what’s legal in their state, then why didn’t that reasoning apply previously when Stern was in a position to actually do something about it? Why is he only now getting on the right side of history?
The Uncle Cliffy team is definitely happy to see David Stern endorse cannabis reform in the NBA, but it’s bittersweet given the fact that so many players were harmed by the NBA’s cannabis prohibition policy during Mr. Stern’s tenure, including and especially Clifford Robinson. Players like Cliff had to endure a tremendous amount of stigma because they were penalized by the NBA for consuming cannabis, and many continue to deal with that stigma still to this day. The opportunities to coach, make official league appearances, and be hired in league media roles that non-sanctioned players are regularly presented with are not offered to NBA players that have been branded with the ‘cannabis scarlet letter.’ Why is that?
It is yet to be seen what effect David Stern’s endorsement will have on NBA league policy, and that of other leagues’ cannabis policies. The National Football league is in the midst of an ongoing conversation about cannabis reform, and the endorsement of a retired commissioner from another major league could possibly carry some weight in those conversations. All professional sports league policies, including the NBA’s, need to be based on science and compassion for players, and not on the harmful political views of a handful of league officials.
League policies need to go farther than just allowing medical use by players in states that have legalized medical cannabis. Professional sports leagues need to completely end cannabis prohibition, including the practice of punishing players for cannabis arrests that take place away from the team. Anything less than that will likely lead to selective enforcement, and in many cases, the perpetuation of institutional racism. Kudos to David Stern for finally getting on the right side of history, albeit after the fact. Hopefully this helps increase the momentum for freeing the plant in the NBA and beyond.