Seantrel Henderson is an offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL). The NFL suspended Seantrel for 10 games during Week 12 of last season due to a failed drug test. Seantrel Henderson was using medical cannabis to treat pain related to Crohn’s disease and two intestinal surgeries, and as a result, tested positive for THC metabolites. The NFL cannabis testing threshold is 35 ng/mL, which is over four times as stringent as the standard that Olympic athletes are held to (150 ng/mL).
Pharmaceutical painkillers are not an option for Mr. Henderson because of his multiple intestinal surgeries. Cannabis seems to be the only thing that works. Yet, despite the clear medical need for consuming cannabis, Seantrel Henderson was suspended for 10 games. The NFL’s drug testing policy provides for zero exceptions for cannabis use, even when the use occurs in a state where it’s legal, and even when the player has been recommended cannabis by a medical doctor. Seantrel previously served a four game suspension for the same reason (cannabis use).
Fortunately for Seantrel Henderson, he has been reinstated by the Buffalo Bills after having served his suspension, effective earlier today. Per Buffalo Rumblings:
The Buffalo Billshave activated offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, who was eligible to return to the Bills today having now completed his 10-game suspension that dates back to last season. The Bills had a deadline of 4 p.m. Eastern to make the decision regarding Henderson.
According to the previously cited Buffalo Rumblings article, Henderson stated that he hasn’t had any issues with Crohn’s disease’s recently, which is a great thing. However, it begs the question, ‘what happens if/when Henderson experiences pain from his disease?’ Seantrel Henderson will be faced with the choice of consuming cannabis for relief and then face likely disciplinary action, or go without his medicine and (needlessly) endure significant pain, or step away from the job and sport that he obviously loves. All of those options are unacceptable.
Regardless if Seantrel’s condition flares up or not, what is happening to him is inhumane. No one should be required to go without a proven medicine, especially when the motivation preventing the medicine’s use is based on political beliefs, not science. The NFL’s cannabis policy is harmful. Seantrel Henderson’s case is an unfortunate example of that. Cannabis is 114 times safer than alcohol, yet players are prohibited from using cannabis while the NFL simultaneously embraces alcohol. That is extremely hypocritical. The NFL needs to have some compassion for its players and fix its failed, harmful cannabis policy.
The Uncle Cliffy team, which is comprised of some of the biggest Buffalo Bills fans on this planet, wants to congratulate Seantrel Henderson on getting back on the field. Clearly he never should have been taken off the field in the first place. Hopefully he can put this matter behind him as much as possible, which will be difficult given his medical need for cannabis. The Uncle Cliffy team will continue to call on the NFL to end cannabis prohibition and let players make the safer choice until all players like Seantrel Henderson can consume cannabis without repercussions. Good luck Seantrel, go Bills!
Photo via Facebook
News broke this week that Steve Cook, described by the Associated Press as ‘a zealous prosecutor who was crucial in writing the Justice Department’s new policy encouraging harsher punishments for criminals,’ has turned his attention towards cannabis. No details were released as to what exactly that means for the cannabis community, but given Mr. Cook’s background, the news does not appear to be a good thing.
The news comes after anti-cannabis comments were made by members of the Trump Administration earlier this year. In February White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated that he expects ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis prohibition laws. In the same month Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the following comments, per Politico:
“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Sessions said during an exchange with reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.”
“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Jeff Sessions also stated the following during a speech to state attorney generals, also earlier this year:
“I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store. Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse? Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that has been made out there. It’s just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits.”
These types of comments have caused a lot of anxiety in the professional sports world were current and retired athletes have been making a serious push to reform cannabis policies in sports leagues. Some media articles have reported that the anti-cannabis comments made by members of the Trump administration have made some athletes think twice about speaking out and supporting reform for fear of persecution. The Uncle Cliffy team can understand that these comments sound scary, but continues to encourage athletes to keep pushing forward.
While it’s possible that the federal government could target a pro athlete for personal cannabis use, such a move would be unprecedented, and is highly unlikely. It is much more likely that the cannabis comments and news coming out of the White House are more rhetoric than anything. By making such comments the Trump administration, and likely sports league officials, knows that it will create a chilling effect that will possibly slow down reform efforts, or convince advocates to abandon them altogether.
The fact remains that cannabis is no more or less prohibited at the federal level and in most sports leagues than it was prior to these comments and news being published. Do they increase or decrease the odds of a player being unfairly sanctioned by the league they play in? Of course not. Players are still going to be targeted in the future, just as they have been in the past until cannabis prohibition ends in professional sports.
The use of scary rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to keeping cannabis prohibition in place. Anti-cannabis statements have been used for decades by opponents in an attempt to dishearten people’s advocacy. Sadly, it often works. Many advocates feel that it’s too much of an uphill battle and there is too much to risk so they remain silent. This cannot happen in the sports cannabis movement. Athletes need to proceed onward and continue to fight for justice and compassion.
If athletes stay quiet and let fear tactics win, prohibition will remain in place. Suffering athletes like Seantrel Henderson from the Buffalo Bills will continue to be punished by the NFL, despite the fact that Seantrel’s use is entirely for medical purposes. Pro sports leagues will continue to perpetuate institutional racism by punishing players for cannabis arrests away from their team, even though mathematical data clearly shows that law enforcement arrests minorities at a disproportionate rate compared to Caucasians. As long as prohibition remains in place, athletes will continue to be punished for using a substance that is 114 times safer than alcohol while leagues simultaneously embrace alcohol, and with it, demonstrate a level of hypocrisy that should never be tolerated.
“Professional athletes need to keep pushing forward and keep calling for reform in leagues that prohibit cannabis use. Advocating for cannabis reform is not always easy, but it is always noble, and with the truth on our side we will eventually prevail and get these leagues on the right side of history.” said Cliff Robinson.
The Uncle Cliffy team recently posted an article which discussed anti-cannabis comments made by members of the federal government. Specifically, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Attorney General Jeff Sessions made comments suggesting that ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis prohibition could be on the way. The statements sent shock waves throughout the cannabis community, and rightfully so. The Trump administration is comprised of many long time cannabis opponents, including Jeff Sessions himself, so hints of policy changes should be taken very seriously.
An article by Bleacher Report indicated that the anti-cannabis comments also caused a stir in professional sports league circles. The article did not provide specific names, but referenced ‘several veteran players, agents and team officials’ from the NFL that expressed strong fears about an NFL player being targeted by the federal government for cannabis use. The article also suggested that NBA players could become high profile targets too.
“Stay away from marijuana at all costs. This isn’t about the NFL any longer. This is about the government coming after you.” stated an unnamed ‘higher-profile NFL agent’ according to the article. It is understandable why players and/or their agents would be concerned about federal prohibition. Federal prohibition is no joking matter. People have been arrested on numerous occasions for possessing cannabis on federal property, and it is estimated that as many as 20,000 people are sitting in prisons right now across America for non-violent, cannabis-only offenses.
But what are the odds of a player who is consuming cannabis in a private setting becoming the target of a federal investigation, especially in a state that has voted to legalize cannabis? Cannabis is no more or less illegal at the federal level now than it was before Trump took office. The federal government going after a player for consuming cannabis is technically possible, but far from likely as history has shown. Such a move would be unprecedented.
A professional athlete being penalized by their respective league for failing a drug test is exponentially more likely to occur. Athletes and their agents should certainly be concerned with federal prohibition, and should monitor for any changes in federal policy or enforcement (as every informed citizen should). They should also fight for reform in society in order to help end cannabis prohibition against responsible adults where it exists.
Federal prohibition as it relates specifically to professional athletes needs to be put into perspective. Cannabis consumption is legal in certain jurisdictions in America, and while it’s still illegal at the federal level, there is currently federal legislation (Farr-Rohrabacher amendment) and case law in place that prevents the federal government from using funds to enforce federal prohibition in states where medical cannabis is legal and the person is in compliance with state law. The measure expires at the end of next month, but is currently in effect and will hopefully be extended. 71% of Americans do not want federal laws enforced in states where voters have legalized cannabis for medical and/or adult use.
Cannabis is of course legal to possess and consume in 8 states, and D.C.. Numerous members of Congress from legal states have made it clear they will not cooperate with a crackdown on personal consumers, similar to the scenario being discussed in the Bleacher Report article. All of this will never 100% guarantee that a professional athlete will not become the target of a federal investigation and prosecution, but athletes and their agents need to put the threat of that happening into perspective. Under no circumstances should league officials be fanning the flames of fear that are popping up among athletes and their agents. To do so is harmful to the greater conversation that is going on regarding cannabis reform in professional sports, which is a conversation that MUST keep moving forward.
Athletes are adults and it is up to each individual to decide their actions, and from a purely compassionate, social justice, and wellness standpoint, the Uncle Cliffy team supports athletes making the safer choice and consuming cannabis in a responsible fashion. In addition to fighting prohibition in society, Uncle Cliffy encourages professional athletes to fight hard to end prohibition in professional sports. Whereas case law, federal legislation, and state legalization laws provide some protections for athletes outside of competition, there are zero protections for athletes in leagues that prohibition cannabis. Professional athletes need to recognize that fact, and do everything they can to fix it.
If a player like Seantrel Henderson from the Buffalo Bills consumes medical cannabis in a legal state, they are allowed to do so without fear of prosecution, at least until the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment expires. But that same consumption will later get that athlete suspended by the NFL. In Seantrel’s case, suspended for approximately 10 games.
Even after Seantrel Henderson serves his suspension, cannabis will still likely be prohibited in the NFL. Seantrel uses medical cannabis to treat a condition (Crohn’s disease) that he will have to live with the rest of his life Multiple surgeries make other pain management treatments not an option for Mr. Henderson. As such current NFL policy is essentially forcing Seantrel to either continue to play and suffer needlessly, or be forced into retirement. Athletes’ attention should definitely be focused on federal cannabis policy, but not at the expense of also keeping focus on the harms of cannabis prohibition in professional sports, and keeping pressure on the leagues to get on the right side of history. The Trump administration’s approach to cannabis policy warrants a lot of criticism, but it has yet to truly change anything that wasn’t already in place prior to the last election.
Athletes should be judged by their athletic abilities, how they perform in competition, and by their moral character. Athletes should not be judged based off of how much THC they have in their system. League policies need to be based on science, and not the personal political views of league officials. The National Hockey League (NHL) has proven that cannabis can be removed from a professional sports league’s banned substance list without issues. Instead of athletes ‘avoiding cannabis at all costs’ Uncle Cliffy encourages athletes to stand up and be heard, and to fight cannabis prohibition head-on. The Uncle Cliffy team will continue to fight to free the plant and fight for the rights of those that consume cannabis, and urges athletes and people that live an active lifestyle to do the same!
image via ACLU
A big push has been underway to try to convince the National Football League (NFL) to update its harmful cannabis policy. Currently the NFL considers cannabis to be a banned substance, and any player that submits to a drug test and crosses the 35 nanograms per milliliter THC limit is penalized. This despite record setting levels of support from the American public for cannabis legalization in society (per Gallup), and a majority level of support for professional athletes using legal cannabis in particular.
Eight states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and nearly 30 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Yet, the NFL clings to its outdated policy. Why? It was the hope of many that the NFL would be on its way to changing its cannabis policy after it was recently announced that the NFL Players Association would be proposing a ‘less punitive’ cannabis policy to the league. That hope was short lived, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear during his ‘state of the league’ address that the NFL has no plans on the horizon to make any changes. Below is an excerpt from a transcript released by The Cannabist:
Q: Given that medical marijuana or recreational marijuana is legal in many states, including Colorado, do you foresee any adjustment to that policy or any review of that part of league drug policy?
Goodell: “We always review our drug policy. That is something that our medical professionals do on a regular basis. We have had discussions with them in the past about that, not recently. They have opposed that. We are not restricted obviously by the state laws. It’s an NFL policy and we believe it’s the correct policy, for now, in the best interest of our players and the long-term health of our players. I don’t foresee a change in that clearly in the short term, but we’ll continue to be in touch with our medical personnel. If that changes, we’ll discuss it.”
Q: To be a bit more specific on the marijuana question, you said two years ago at the summit with Jack Welch that if there was more research done for medical marijuana for players, you would consider approving it. There has been a lot of research in the last couple years. Players like Jim McMahon and Kyle Turley have talked about how it has helped them. Where does the league stand on the issue of medical marijuana for players and ex-players?
Goodell: “I don’t distinguish between the medical marijuana and marijuana issue in the context of my previous answer. Our medical professionals look at that. That is exactly what we talked to them about. I would assume that it would be used in a medical circumstance or if it is even in recreational, our medical professionals look at it in both ways and determine whether they think it is in the best interest to do that. Yes, I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view. Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”
The NFL’s approach to cannabis is harmful to players. It forces players to use more harmful substances like pharmaceutical painkillers that often result in a lifelong battle with addiction for the athlete that is left with little choice in the matter. The current policy results in players like Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson being suspended for 10 games. Seantrel Henderson uses medical cannabis to treat Crohn’s disease and has had to endure multiple surgeries that has resulted in part of Seantrel’s intestines being removed.
If the NFL (and its doctors) truly cared for its players, cases like Seantrel Henderson’s would never exist. The NFL’s cannabis policy is clearly not driven by science, but rather the personal political opinions of just a handful of people in power.