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.