NBPA Executive Director: ‘Not There Yet’ On NBA Medical Cannabis Reform

Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson has been helping lead an effort to reform the harmful, outdated cannabis policy of the National Basketball League (NBA). Current NBA cannabis policy is such that there are no exceptions for cannabis use by NBA players, even when the cannabis use is legal in the state where the consumption takes place, and even when the use is for medical purposes.

The NBA subjects its players to several random cannabis tests throughout the season and has the strictest cannabis testing limit out of the major sports leagues. The NBA’s 15 ng/mL THC metabolite threshold is ten times as strict as what Olympic athletes are held to. Many NBA players have been suspended for cannabis use over the years, including Clifford Robinson (multiple times).

Alcohol use by players is not prohibited by the NBA, despite alcohol being 114 times more harmful than cannabis. The NBA also pushes opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs on its players, despite cannabis being safer a safer, effective alternative. The blatant hypocrisy on the part of the NBA is unacceptable, and a growing number of current and retired players have joined Clifford Robinson in demanding a change.

Cannabis reform in the NBA can come via one of two routes. The first is if NBA leadership decides to end cannabis prohibition, but that does not appear to be likely for whatever reason. The much more likely route is via collective bargaining negotiations between players and owners. In order for that to happen though, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) will have to take the lead on the issue during negotiations.

The sports community gained insight this week into whether or not cannabis reform is on the NBPA’s radar when the executive director of the NBPA, Michele Roberts, participated in an interview with SB Nation and discussed medical cannabis reform in the league. Below is what Michele Roberts had to say, per the interview:

Everyone claims to have done their own independent study. What we want to do is agree on some experts that can sit down and talk to us. My own view is that there are substantial signs that support its efficacy and the value that it has for us, especially pain management. We’re in talks with the league to see where we can go with it.

The obvious future is that marijuana will be decriminalized probably throughout the country in short order. Don’t forget our current attorney general [Jeff Sessions], who has taken a very different approach to his tolerance for this. That makes it a little more difficult.

It is a banned substance in our league right now. If we do go down that road, we have to protect our players from — my words — a crazed attorney general who says he will prosecute violations of the law involving marijuana and he doesn’t care what individual states say.

In other words, I don’t want my guys being arrested at airports in possession of a cannabinoid by some fed. It’s against the law. So, we’ll see.

There is no medical exemption?

No. It does not exist now. We’re exploring it. I think there is some movement toward accepting it as an appropriate use to address pain. But we’re not there yet.

The interview covers multiple points. The first is one that comes up a lot when cannabis reform is discussed – cannabis studies. The fact of the matter is that cannabis is one of the most studied substances known to man, and the Uncle Cliffy team continues to encourage NBA officials to look at the mountain of cannabis research that already exists which shows that cannabis is safe and effective. The current body of studies dealing with cannabis and pain, reducing opioid use, and traumatic brain injuries are of particular importance.

Secondly, Michele Roberts expresses concerns about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-cannabis views. Those fears are not well founded, and should not serve as justification for continued cannabis prohibition in the NBA. The federal government going after an individual for simply consuming cannabis, including professional athletes, would be unprecedented.

Possessing cannabis on federal property is one thing, as is trying to fly with cannabis (which no one is proposing that athletes should do). But the odds of the federal government going after a professional athlete simply for being a cannabis consumer is very, very low and likely non-existent as the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out previously (here, here, here, and here).

Executive director Roberts’ last words of the excerpt above were disappointing to read. ‘We’re not there yet’ is not good enough. NBA players have to deal with all types of conditions and ailments, and cannabis has been proven to help people that suffer from those conditions and ailments.

Cannabis is safer than other substances that the NBA embraces. Also, cannabis laws have been reformed in one form or another in every state and country that NBA teams are located. Michele Roberts recently attended a cannabis company launch party, so hopefully she is warming up to the idea of cannabis reform in the NBA at a rapid pace. It’s beyond time that the NBA, and the NBPA, got on the ride side of history and put the health and wellness of NBA players above outdated political views. Free the plant!

More background on Uncle Cliffy’s coverage of cannabis and the NBA:

Polling Shows That The NBA’s Fanbase Supports Cannabis Reform
Ending Cannabis Prohibition In The NBA Shouldn’t Be So Difficult
Ex-NBA Commissioner Supports Removing Cannabis From List Of Banned Substances
Report: Adam Silver Says NBA Is Open To Medical Cannabis Reform

The NBA Continues To Cling To Cannabis Prohibition

Last week ex-commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) David Stern endorsed cannabis reform in the NBA. Stern’s statements generated a significant amount of conversation around the league, with members of the NBA community making comments for and against the endorsement. Ultimately the audience that needed to embrace David Stern’s words the most was NBA leadership, but it appears that Stern’s words did not have the intended effect, at least not right now. The NBA responded to Stern’s comments via an article posted by USA Today:

“While (current NBA) commissioner (Adam) Silver has said that we are interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana, our position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes.” – NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass

The league’s response was then followed by a response from the National Basketball Player’s Association, as covered by NBA.com:

“I think its fair to say we have to be mindful that given the current administration and Sessions’ comments on his view, that it’s a gateway drug, it wouldn’t be prudent for any changes to be made until we know what the current DOJ has to say about this,” NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said Sunday. “The other sports that aren’t testing for marijuana like we are, I don’t know if they’re paying attention to today’s DOJ. I want us to be aware of what the political agenda looks like.”

The NBA’s response is obviously completely out of touch, as it has been for a number of years. Oregon, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for adult use, all of which are home to one or more NBA teams. Legalization is on the way next year in Canada, which will add the home of the Toronto Raptors to the list. States like Michigan (home of the Pistons) may legalize cannabis in 2018. Every state in America has passed at least CBD-specific cannabis reform measures except for Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Support for legalization in American society is at an all-time high. So why does the NBA continue to cling to such an unpopular, failed policy?

Members of the National Basketball Players Association need to recognize that this is an important issue for players’ health, and that it’s also important from a social justice standpoint. Cannabis prohibition is a racist public policy, as proven by abundant statistical data. If an African American NBA player is almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis while away from their team compared to Caucasian players, and the NBA suspends players for getting arrested for cannabis (via Article 35 of the NBA Constitution), African American players are then also four times more likely to be punished by the NBA for a cannabis arrest compared to Caucasian players. That’s a perpetuation of institutional racism that should not be tolerated by NBA players (or league officials for that matter).

NBA players need to lead the charge on calling for the league to end cannabis prohibition. NBA officials need to get on the right side of history and completely remove cannabis from the league’s banned substances list and refrain from taking actions against players that are accused/convicted of cannabis-only offenses. Exemptions for medical cannabis will not go far enough, as it will not fully address the harmful social injustice component of the NBA’s current cannabis policy. Players that live in states that do not have a medical cannabis program will still be targeted by the NBA under a medical-only policy. Also, some players may still become the victims of institutional racism simply because they were caught with a personal amount of a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol.