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.