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:

  1. 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.
  2. Better health outcomes for players that experience brain injuries.
  3. Less use of opioids, which are ruining players’ lives.
  4. Lower consumption rates of prescription drugs for sleep disorders, anxiety, and migraines, many of which have harmful side effects.
  5. 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.!)
  6. Supporting equality by eliminating a policy that has been proven to be a form of institutional racism.
  7. 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