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