Last month former National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner David Stern stated that he now supports cannabis reform in the NBA. Stern’s endorsement of NBA cannabis reform was met with a swift reply from the NBA that it would keep cannabis on its banned substances list. However, Stern’s statements did generate a significant amount of conversation in the NBA community and beyond, with much of the conversation being positive from a cannabis reform standpoint.
A number of retired players have joined 18 year veteran Clifford Robinson in coming out in support of cannabis reform in the NBA. Today an active player, Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, expressed support for medical cannabis reform in the NBA. Towns’ pro-cannabis comments came during an interview with ESPN, excerpts of which can be found below (interview questions are in bold):
If you’re commissioner Adam Silver and could make one change to the rules in the NBA, what would it be?
I agree with David Stern with marijuana. You don’t have to actually make it “Mary J” [or] “Half Baked.” You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better. That’s something that Adam Silver has to do. That’s out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily. I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us.
And again, you’re coming at this as a guy who has never smoked.
No, I’ve never smoked or drank a day in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. All my friends don’t drink or smoke. I’ve always believed the people you keep around you [represent] who you’ll become. I have no animosity or ill will or any belittlement to anyone who smokes or drinks. Everyone has their own hobbies and what they like to do and who they are. So I just personally have never done anything like that. I was just raised a little different like that. I never had anyone [around me] who wanted to do it … I’m a strong believer, I have a strong mind. So if I don’t want to do it no one can peer pressure me into doing it.
It takes a lot of courage to speak out about cannabis reform when a player is active due to the unfair stigma they will face. What Karl-Anthony Towns did this week is inspiring, and will hopefully encourage other active NBA players to come out in support of cannabis reform. Hopefully it also encourages athletes in other sports to do the same. Towns is joined by at least one other active NBA player in supporting medical cannabis reform in the league – Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin.
In an interview in 2014 Blake Griffin had the following to say about medical cannabis reform in the NBA (interview question in bold):
The NFL might let players use medical marijuana to treat pain. If you had a vote, would the NBA do the same?
It doesn’t really affect me, but so many guys would probably benefit from it and not take as many painkillers, which have worse long-term effects. So I would vote yes. I just think it makes sense.
As always, the Uncle Cliffy team feels the need to point out that while medical cannabis reform is a great thing, a full end to cannabis prohibition in professional sports is even better. A medical-only approach to cannabis in professional sports leaves open the door for selective enforcement, and does not address the issue of professional sports leagues perpetuating institutional racism via suspending players for cannabis arrests while they are away from their team. 8 states and Washington D.C. now allow cannabis for adult use (with more on the way), and considering how many professional sports teams are located in those states, the NBA and other leagues need to get with the times and get on the right side of history. Free the plant!