Why Medical Cannabis Reform Is Not Enough For Pro Sports Leagues

A big push has been underway to try to reform cannabis policies in professional sports leagues. Current and retired NFL players have been lobbying hard to try to convince the league to allow players to use medical cannabis under certain conditions. The same can be said about current and retired NBA players, as well as athletes in other leagues that prohibit cannabis.

The Uncle Cliffy team supports such efforts and believes that all suffering players should have safe access to cannabis because it is a safe and effective medicine. However, we also believe that medical cannabis reform does not go far enough. A league policy that continues to prohibit cannabis for adult-use, even when medical cannabis use is allowed in some circumstances, is a policy that will continue to perpetuate institutional racism.

People of color are arrested at a disproportionate rate compared to Caucasian people in America, even though the rate of consumption among races is relatively the same. In cities like St. Louis, African Americans are arrested at 18 times the rate of Caucasians. If a league continues to prohibit cannabis, and an athlete is more likely to be arrested outside of competition, then that same athlete is also that much more likely to be punished for cannabis by the league that employs them. That’s why the Uncle Cliffy team is urging athletes to push for a full end to cannabis prohibition in professional sports. Medical cannabis reform is great, but it does not go far enough to ensure that athletes are not targeted.

The details from the proposals that have been making their rounds in the media describe a scenario in which an athlete will be allowed to have cannabis in their system if the player lives in a state where medical cannabis is legal, and the player is a registered medical cannabis patient. While a number of states have legalized medical cannabis, a number of other states have not. Even in states that have legalized medical cannabis, there are still a number of hurdles that prevent a player from being eligible to become a registered medical cannabis patient.

Qualifying conditions to become a medical cannabis patient vary from state to state. A player that lives in California will be able to qualify fairly easily, whereas a player in Louisiana will have to wait a long time to be able to qualify for the same condition if they ever qualify at all. Many medical cannabis states have yet to issue medical cannabis cards/recommendations to any patients, and it could be quite some time before these states have programs in place that can actually help athletes.

A league cannabis policy that only allows exceptions for registered medical cannabis patients is going to leave a lot of players on the outside looking in. It will create a scenario that results in unfair treatment, with some players being considered to be compliant, and others not, based solely on which state the athlete decides to reside in. If a player lives in a state that does not have a medical cannabis program or does not recognize the condition that the player suffers from, they will be subject to the same disciplinary actions that are currently on the books, even if a player with the same condition that lives in a neighboring state is seen as being compliant. How is that fair? How is that compassionate?

What if a player is arrested in another state for using medical cannabis? How will the league handle that scenario? The use would obviously be medical in nature, but because the player was caught with cannabis in a prohibition state, do they still get punished by the league? Just because a player crosses a state border does not mean that their condition goes away, so this situation is a very real possibility. A medical-only league cannabis policy will help some players, but most players will still be in the same situation that they are in today.

Anything short of ending cannabis prohibition altogether will no doubt lead to selective enforcement. Leagues will be able to effectively pick and choose which players they want to let slide, and which players they want to punish. If a league wants to target a player for non-medical reasons, they will be free to do so. A player that thinks that they are in compliance with league policy will not found out that they are out of compliance until it is too late. That is clearly unacceptable.

Cannabis prohibition does not work. Athletes in professional sports leagues are adults, most of which are over the age of 21. In eight states and Washington D.C. adults over 21 years old can possess and consume cannabis responsibly, so why can’t they do the same when they are employed by a professional sports league? Why are athletes prohibited from consuming a substance that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol, alcohol, of course, being widely embraced by professional sports? Why do leagues support the practice of perpetuating institutional racism due to a plant that has been found to help people use fewer prescription drugs, including opioids?

“Medical cannabis reform is a great step in the right direction, and will hopefully help some players, but it does not go far enough. A medical-only policy still leaves the window open for selective enforcement, which is dangerous for players, especially players of color. The only way to eliminate institutional racism via cannabis prohibition in professional sports is to end cannabis prohibition altogether.” said Cliff Robinson.

The Uncle Cliffy team encourages professional athletes to push for the complete end to cannabis prohibition in their respective leagues. The NHL no longer lists cannabis as a banned substance, and the NHL has not suffered in any way as a result. Leagues like the NFL and NBA need to follow the example set by the NHL and treat its players with compassion and respect. More and more states are set to end cannabis prohibition and join the 8 states (and D.C.) that have already legalized cannabis. Professional sports leagues need to do the same and free the plant.

How Many Pro Teams Are Located Where Cannabis Laws Have Been Reformed?

Cannabis reform has been sweeping across America since 1996 when the first state, California, voted to legalize medical cannabis. Since that time a number of states have followed suit in legalizing medical cannabis, and eight states have voted to legalize cannabis altogether. Washington D.C. has also legalized cannabis for both medical and adult use.

But while cannabis reform has occurred in society, most professional sports leagues have not evolved past full prohibition. The National Hockey League does not list cannabis as a banned substance, but Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) all prohibit cannabis, no exceptions. This despite an overwhelming majority of teams in those leagues being located in a state or country (Canada) that has reformed its cannabis laws in some form.

As the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out before, cannabis has been legalized in some form (at least cannabidiol and/or low THC) in every state in America except five states (Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota). It is worth pointing out that Nebraska has decriminalized possession of cannabis, which puts it ahead of professional sports leagues that punish its players for possessing cannabis in states where it is a crime. However, Nebraska does not have a MLB, NFL, or NBA team.

There are only two teams from the NFL, NBA and/or MLB in the referenced list of full prohibition states, and they are both located in Indiana (the Pacers and the Colts). Indiana’s Governor currently has a medical cannabis bill awaiting his signature, which if signed, would result in zero NFL, NBA, or MLB professional teams being located in a state where cannabis is completely prohibited. A recent tweet by local Indiana media suggests that the Governor is very likely to sign the bill, as seen below:

Soon there will be no MLB, NFL, or NBA teams located in full prohibition states barring some type of league expansion. Players in these major sports leagues can legally purchase cannabis for adult use purposes right now in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, provided that they are 21 years old or older. Soon the same will be true for Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and California. California in particular is home to many MLB, NFL, and NBA teams. Legalization is also coming to Canada next summer at the federal level.

It’s beyond time that the NBA, NFL, MLB, and any other sports leagues that prohibit cannabis by its competitors make a serious effort and re-evaluate their stance against cannabis. They need to get on the right side of history and allow the players to make the safer choice. Free the plant!

image via WellandGood.com

Legalization In Canada Could Have A Big Impact On Pro Sports Leagues

Both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have a team located in Toronto, Canada (Raptors and Blue Jays, respectively). In the past there was also an NBA team in Vancouver (the Grizzlies, now in Memphis) and a MLB team in Montreal (the Expos, now the Washington Nationals). A significant number of athletes that compete in other leagues cross back and forth between the United States/Canadian border for competition purposes, in addition to those in the MLB and NBA.

Because of these factors, a big shift in cannabis policy in Canada would be a big deal to professional sports leagues that are based in America, especially if American policy didn’t evolve along with Canada’s. Canada’s government recently announced a goal date to implement cannabis legalization for adult use, which is something that has been talked about often ever since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015. Per CBC:

The Liberal government will announce legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018.

CBC News has learned that the legislation will be announced during the week of April 10 and will broadly follow the recommendation of a federally appointed task force that was chaired by former liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

The legal age for cannabis consumption in Canada is currently proposed to be 18 years or older. That is three years younger than any state in America that has voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Most of the professional sports teams located in Canada are in the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL does not list cannabis on its list of banned substances, so legalization in Canada will not affect athletes in those leagues from a drug testing perspective.

However, there is another issue that even cannabis consuming NHL players still have to deal with. As previously discussed on the Uncle Cliffy blog, when people are trying to enter the United States they are asked, among other questions, if they have ever consumed cannabis. If they answer in the affirmative, they run the risk of being denied entry into the United States. That is what happened to Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, and could happen to athletes who are traveling from Canada for competition in the United States. An adult athlete would be able to legally consume cannabis in Canada after legalization, protected by a federal law from a neighboring country, but that legal act could mean the difference between being able to make it to the next game on the road trip, or being stranded in Canada, stuck in legal limbo. How would a league handle that situation, as it’s a very real possibility in the future?

Any athlete who is competing in a situation that involves drug testing will essentially be forced to either roll the dice, or refrain from cannabis consumption while in Canada. This despite cannabis being legal in Canada soon, and despite cannabis being proven to be 114 times safer than alcohol which is a substance widely embraced by leagues that prohibit cannabis.

THC can stay in a person’s body for as long as 100 days according to at least one study, which means that an athlete runs the risk of being penalized well after the consumption took place. And that doesn’t even consider what type of consumption method or for what purpose the athlete consumed. The athlete could have very well consumed cannabis in a smokeless form, of a cannabinoid composition level that does not even create euphoria, and entirely for medical purposes. All of this being 100% legal in Canada in the not-so-distant future for adult use, and currently already legal for medical use. How does that make any sense?

The NHL has proven that cannabis can be removed from a league’s banned substances list and that the sky will remain intact. 8 states in America have legalized cannabis for adult use, as has Washington D.C., and soon, the entire nation of Canada will also have legalized. Athletes shouldn’t have to have their careers put at risk, or even worse ended entirely, because they chose to use a substance, the legalization of which is supported by 60% of Americans.

Professional sports leagues may not be able to change public policy in America to eliminate potential issues around cannabis use and entry into the United States, but professional sports leagues can recognize that prohibition has failed, and that league policies should get on the right side of history. Cannabis legalization is coming to Canada in 2018, and likely to more states in America by the end of 2018. One state that is likely to legalize in 2018 is Michigan which borders Canada, and which is home to the Tigers (MLB), Pistons (NBA), and Lions (NFL). Other states will likely legalize cannabis for medical use by the end of 2018. All professional sports leagues need to follow suit and free the plant!

Ten Reasons Why Pro Sports Leagues Should Legalize Cannabis

Cannabis consumption of any kind is prohibited in most professional sports, including the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB). Cannabis prohibition is a failed policy whether it’s in professional sports or society, and is very harmful to those that have to deal with prohibition’s unfair consequences.

Many upstanding professional athletes have had their careers hindered, or even derailed, because of cannabis prohibition. Athletes should be measure by their physical skills and moral character, and not by the level of cannabinoids in their system. Below are ten reasons why professional sports leagues should get with the times and end cannabis prohibition.

1. Because cannabis is safer than substances that leagues currently embraces

Alcohol and opioid painkillers are used widely by professional athletes, and embraced by professional sports leagues. Cannabis has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. Opioid addiction is a major problem in professional sports leagues, due in large part to how often painkillers are pushed on players. As many as 40 people die every day in America from opioid based painkillers. Cannabis has never killed anyone.

2. Because cannabis helps suffering players

Athletes get hurt. If you play sports long enough, you will incur injuries either from contact with another player or surface, or from wear and tear. There’s simply no way around it. Cannabis has been found to be a proven medicine that can effectively treat all types of ailments that athletes suffer from, including and especially chronic pain. Cannabis is one of the most studied substances in America, with over 23,000+ medical papers published about the topic to date. Cannabis is medicine. That’s an undeniable fact.

3. Because consumption will not go away, it’s just pushed into the shadows

Cannabis has been prohibited in professional sports for many years now, yet consumption rates are still significantly high (no pun intended). That’s not a bad thing. Cannabis consumption is going to occur regardless of if it’s prohibited or not, the only difference is that players will be doing it in secret under prohibition, and likely with little to no thought as to what type of cannabis or consumption method is best for their situation. Legalization pulls that consumption out of the shadows, which is an undeniably better approach for players’ health.

4. Because the punishment doesn’t fit ‘the crime’

There are numerous professional athletes, Cliff Robinson included, that have been penalized for making the safer choice to consume cannabis instead of alcohol or pharmaceutical painkillers. These athletes were prevented from competing in a sport that they had dedicated their lives to, all because they chose to consume a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. If the only violation is that an athlete was caught possessing and/or consuming cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol and painkillers, how is it justified that the athlete should be prevented from competing? If the athlete was not found to be harming another human in any way, how is justified to penalize them in so harsh a manner as to keep them from coming to work and/or fining them large sums of money?

5. Because it will help combat the opioid epidemic in pro sports

644 NFL players were surveyed in 2010 about opioid use. Per the survey, ‘Over half (52%) used opioids during their NFL career with 71% reporting misuse. Additionally, 15% of NFL misusers currently misused vs. 5% among players who used just as prescribed during their NFL career. Prevalence of current opioid use was 7%–3 times the rate of the general population.’ That is a problem that is found throughout professional sports, and the problem seems to grow with every passing year. Patients using medical cannabis to control chronic pain reported a 64% reduction in opioid use, per a University of Michigan study. If professional sports leagues are serious about their desire to reduce opioid abuse among players, which we here at Uncle Cliffy Sports Cannabis sincerely hope is the case, removing cannabis as a banned substance would significantly help achieve the goal.

6. Because cannabis prohibition is a racist, failed policy

Cannabis prohibition disproportionately affects minorities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) African Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, even though consumption rates are roughly the same for both races. In St. Louis specifically, one study found that African Americans were arrested 18 times more often than white people for cannabis. This is tremendously important because many sports leagues treat a legal cannabis issue such as an arrest as grounds for league sanctions. By enforcing cannabis prohibition in that manner, professional sports leagues are perpetuating the systematic racism that is so ingrained in America’s criminal justice system. If leagues truly embraced diversity and equality, they would get on the right side of history and remove cannabis as a banned substance.

7. Because fans support cannabis reform

Gallup has been asking Americans if they support cannabis legalization since 1969. Back then, only 12% of Americans that participated in the survey supported cannabis legalization. That number has since steadily surged to an all-time high of 60% this year. Support is even greater for the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Professional sports leagues need to recognize that reforming cannabis policies in their leagues is not a risky move. After all, polling consistently has shown that most Americans would welcome such a move.

8. Because so many teams are located in states/districts that are legal

There are many NFL, NBA, and MLB teams located in states (and D.C.) that have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Those teams are: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards. This of course doesn’t even include states that have legalized medical cannabis, nor does it include other professional sports leagues who have teams or hold competitions in legal states.

9. Because doctors and law enforcement support it

Doctors for Cannabis Regulation is making a big push for cannabis reform in sports. The doctors that help lead the organization are established and very much respected in the medical community. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is an organization comprised of current and retired members of law enforcement who have witnessed first hand the failures of cannabis prohibition, and therefore fight to end cannabis prohibition wherever it may exist. Common reasons that cannabis opponents offer up as to why they oppose cannabis reform (including in sports) is because it’s bad for peoples’ health and it’s illegal. It’s important for sports leagues to know that doctors and cops are among those leading the charge to reform cannabis laws in America, which includes professional sports leagues.

10. The NHL has done it, and the sky is still intact

The National Hockey League (NHL) does not include cannabis on its list of banned substances. This sensible approach to cannabis policy is something that other professional sports leagues should adopt, and is definitive proof that removing cannabis as a banned substance does not result in the downfall of a sport or its players.

image via ThirdMonk.net