The NFL Should Dismiss Jaelen Strong’s Cannabis Suspension

The Uncle Cliffy team has made it clear that we feel that no professional athlete should be suspended for cannabis. That includes not only cannabis suspensions related to random drug testing, but also for suspensions related to cannabis-related interactions with law enforcement away from the team. This would include the case of NFL player Jaelen Strong who is a wide receiver for the Houston Texans.

Jaelen Strong was arrested in 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona after a car he was a passenger in was pulled over, and Jaelen was found to be in possession of three cannabis joints. Arizona is home to some of the harshest cannabis laws in the country, with possession of 3 joints being a felony, carrying a penalty of up to 2 years in prison and a $150,000 fine. Fortunately Jaelen was able to avoid jail time by agreeing to an array of alternative punishments.

But Jaelen is not only being punished by the Arizona court system, he is also being punished by the NFL, who has suspended Mr. Strong for one game because of the arrest in Arizona. In addition to the suspension and court punishments, Jaelen has had to deal with a lot of stigma from the league and the media, and will likely have to continue to deal with the stigma the rest of his promising career. Jaelen Strong has appealed his one game suspension, and the Uncle Cliffy team is hopeful that he will prevail.

As the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out before, suspending African American NFL players for cannabis arrests away from the team perpetuates institutional racism. In Arizona, African Americans are almost two and a half times more likely to be arrested for cannabis compared to Caucasians despite usage rates being roughly the same between the races. So if an African American player (like Jaelen Strong) is over twice as likely to be arrested for cannabis away from the team, that same player is also over twice as likely to be suspended by the NFL for a cannabis arrest. That policy is unacceptable, and is a policy that the NFL needs to change immediately.

Taking players off the field for a cannabis arrest is absurd on many levels. To put into perspective just how ridiculous the NFL’s policy is, consider the fact that had Jaelen Strong been in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, or Washington D.C. at the time, the amount of cannabis he was possessing would have been perfectly legal (California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts had not legalized cannabis at the time of arrest, but have since then).

Three joints is roughly 3 grams of cannabis. In all of the previously mentioned states an adult over 21 years old can possess up to 28 grams of cannabis while in transit and it’s perfectly legal. In Washington D.C., the same person could possess up to 56 grams of cannabis in transit. The math alone is enough to highlight how unfairly Jaelen has been treated. Had he simply been in another state (or in Washington D.C.), he would have been allowed to go about his day with no penalty at all. In many other jurisdictions, which have decriminalized personal cannabis possession, Strong would not have been arrested and the NFL likely would have never heard about the incident.

But because Jaelen Strong was in a prohibition state, he was arrested, and because the NFL perpetuates institutional racism via its cannabis policy, he now gets to potentially sit out a game. Even if he wins his appeal, he will still have to deal with the unfair stigma that comes with being a professional athlete associated with cannabis. That is an unfortunate situation that Cliff Robinson is very familiar with.

“I was obviously suspended multiple times for cannabis use during my pro career. I have also had to deal with the stigma that Jaelen Strong is experiencing. It’s nothing I would wish on anyone. Jaelen Strong was caught with a plant that is safer than alcohol and safer than opioids, which are two substances that the NFL widely embraces. The amount he was caught with is a legal amount in 8 states now. No one was harmed by what Jaelen did, so why is he being taken off the field? Jaelen Strong is a talented player, and hopefully he wins his appeal and can put all of this behind him.” said Cliff Robinson.

image via Battle Red Blog