A number of sports leagues and organizations prohibit cannabis use by athletes, and have for many years. Cannabis use is prohibited in leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and Major League Baseball (MLB), even when the use occurs in a legal state, and even when the use is medical in nature. The Uncle Cliffy team, led by 18 year NBA veteran Clifford Robinson, wholeheartedly opposes cannabis prohibition in professional sports.
Cannabis prohibition does not work, but for some reason many league officials and athletic competition regulators cling to the failed policy anyways. Various reasons are offered up by sports cannabis prohibitionists as justification for keeping prohibition in place. The reasons offered up are not valid and the claims prohibitionists make are often based on personal opinions rather than on facts. Anyone who has conducted sufficient research can easily debunk the reasons offered up by officials who try to justify prohibiting cannabis in professional sports.
One of the most common reasons offered up by sports cannabis prohibitionists is that ‘there needs to be more research’ conducted before leagues and regulatory entities can make an educated decision on a policy change. As the Uncle Cliffy team has previously pointed out, cannabis is one of the most studied substances on the planet. Cannabis has been the subject of more peer reviewed studies than Toradol, Hydrocodone, and Tylenol – combined. All three of those substances are widely embraced by professional sports leagues. If there has been enough studies of those substances to warrant allowing their use by athletes in the NBA, NFL, and MLB, why isn’t the same true for cannabis?
Another common reason offered up by sports cannabis prohibitionists is that cannabis is harmful to players, with no exceptions. That claim completely ignores the undeniable, growing body of evidence that proves that cannabis can be very beneficial for athletes. We list several studies on our website which have found that cannabis can be effective at treating pain and brain injuries. Cannabis is also effective at treating many other conditions and ailments. Cannabis can also help athletes reduce their reliance on opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs, which is something that every league should be on board with. Cannabis has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol, yet cannabis is banned and alcohol is widely embraced by professional sports leagues. How does that make sense? It doesn’t.
A third reason offered up by some sports cannabis prohibitionists, which is ironic given the previous paragraph, is that cannabis is a performance enhancing drug. The Uncle Cliffy team does not believe that cannabis is an athletic performance enhancer, at least not to the point that it warrants being prohibited for that reason. Some research has found that cannabis consumption can increase blood flow and oxygen uptake. However, the same could be said for water and a number of foods. Cannabis can help with inflammation and pain, but so too can various over-the-counter medications that are not prohibited by professional sports leagues.
Just because a substance provides a slight difference in biological functions such as oxygen uptake does not mean that it should be categorized as a performance enhancing drug. A difference needs to be made between substances that slightly increase a biological function and those that clearly provide an advantage to athletes that use them. A substance needs to provide a significant physical advantage to an athlete in order to warrant being classified as a performance enhancing drug, and therefore be banned in professional sports leagues. What the exact threshold should be is something that the Uncle Cliffy team will leave to the scientific community, but we feel very confident in saying that cannabis is not a performance enhancing drug and should not be in the same category as anabolic steroids.
From a scientific standpoint, cannabis can help athletes via wellness benefits, and is safer than other substances that athletes are allowed to use. From a rules standpoint, any concerns that prohibitionists have do not outweigh the need for compassion for athletes and the need to eliminate the perpetuation of institutional racism in professional sports. Cannabis prohibition has a disproportionate impact on minority athletes, and that is something that professional sports leagues should want to avoid. League cannabis policies should be based on science and logic, not the personal political beliefs of a small group of league officials and sports competition regulators. If the National Hockey League can operate successfully without including cannabis on its list of banned substances, other leagues can certainly do the same. Free the plant!
Federal cannabis prohibition started in the United States in 1937. Cannabis is still prohibited at the federal level, but a number of states have voted to end prohibition. Colorado and Washington were the first to do so in 2012. Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. followed in 2014, and 2016 saw California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts join the list of legal states. Michigan is hopefully on its way in 2018, along with one or more other states that may end cannabis prohibition via legislative action.
Leading up to successful legalization votes in current legal states cannabis opponents made many wild claims that time has since proven to be false. A lot of those same claims are being made by league officials in an attempt to keep prohibition in place in professional sports. The sky has not fallen over legal states. In fact, things are going quite well by many measures. Part of being an effective cannabis advocate both inside and outside of the sports world is being armed with the facts. Below are four facts that prove that legalization is working, and that the Uncle Cliffy team strongly believes everyone should be familiar with.
Falling teen use
One of the most frequently made claims by cannabis opponents about legalization is that a massive spike in teen use would follow implementation. Opponents have long went to the ‘what about the children’ argument early and often. The Uncle Cliffy team does not support kids using cannabis, and has always made it clear that we believe that cannabis should only be used by adults 21 and over (with exceptions for medical use). This does not mean that the Uncle Cliffy team believes that prohibition is the best way to prevent America’s youth from using cannabis.
What the Uncle Cliffy team does believe in is legalization and regulation which requires cannabis retailers to check people’s IDs before a transaction. The unregulated market has no age limit, and regulating cannabis is the best way to help ensure that America’s youth cannot access cannabis. Math is proving cannabis advocates to be right, and opponents to be wrong. According to the federal government’s own data, teen cannabis use in America is at a 20 year low. With 8 states and Washington D.C. having legalized cannabis for adult use, and 29 states having passed comprehensive medical cannabis reforms, not only is there not a spike in teen use, the overall usage rate among America’s youth is at a twenty year low. That is a fact that is worth repeating over and over.
The spread of legalization has resulted in the cannabis industry expanding at a dramatic rate. The expansion of the industry has been paralleled by a boom in job creation. In June Marijuana Business Daily published a report which estimated that the cannabis industry had created as many as 230,000 full and part-time jobs. The jobs pay a fair wage, and the positions were essentially created out of thin air. To put that number into perspective, the cannabis industry now employs more people than the massage therapist industry and the baking industry. There are now more cannabis workers than there are dental hygienists in America, and the industry is creating more jobs every day.
One way that cannabis legalization benefits everyone is via tax revenues. In an unregulated cannabis market, no tax revenues are generated. But in a legal and regulated cannabis system, cannabis sales generate tax revenue. According to New Frontier Data, states with legal cannabis sales are expected to generate approximately $655 million in state taxes on retail sales in 2017. That number is obviously going to increase in the future. The taxes are going to go to many things that would otherwise go unfunded. In towns like Huntington, Oregon, which is home to legal cannabis sales, the tax revenue is expected to double the town’s budget, which is obviously significant.
Saved money from not enforcing prohibition
Enforcing cannabis prohibition, which is a failed public policy, is expensive. According to Jeffrey Miron, a senior lecturer at Harvard University, cannabis prohibition cost the United States $20 billion dollars annually as of 2013. Paying to fine and/or arrest and/or prosecute and/or incarcerate people for cannabis adds up quick. All of that money is wasted given that cannabis is safer than alcohol and many other substances that are perfectly legal. Fortunately since Mr. Miron’s study, 8 states and Washington D.C. have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use, which is hopefully taking a significant chunk out of the $20 billion figure that Jeffrey Miron’s research arrived at. All of the money saved from not enforcing failed prohibition is now going to much more worthy things in legal states, which would also be true in any other state that ended cannabis prohibition within its borders. Government resources are limited. They should be going towards fighting real crime, towards schools, and towards improving America’s infrastructure, not enforcing harmful cannabis prohibition.