The NFL and the NFL Players Association have traditionally been on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to cannabis. But one of the most interesting events occurring on this year’s April 20th was the start of an official new policy agreed upon by both organizations.
Now through August 9th — the first day of the official preseason — NFL players will not be subject to testing positive for THC. Which means they’re free to chew, puff, light up or otherwise get high all through the offseason. Testing will continue for other banned substances including cocaine, amphetamines, oxycodone and PCP.
This is a far cry from past NFL policy that has been zero tolerance for cannabis, previously with fines and suspensions if a player was drug tested and showed more than 35 ng/ml of THC. Under the new agreement, once preseason begins even this strict criterion will be loosened, allowing up to 150 nanograms in a player’s system before punishment kicks in. Moreover, players can no longer be suspended from games for a positive cannabis result, instead being fined for up to three weeks’ pay.
In past seasons, multiple violations could result in a ban up to one year, but this is not expected to reoccur. A panel made up of medical professionals chosen by both the Players Association and the NFL will make recommendations on whether players found using cannabis will require treatment. Practically, players expect that once they pass their initial random test, which they expect shortly before their first preseason game, they will be home free for the rest of the season.
Which is just fine with the majority of players who are looking at cannabis more for its therapeutic value than its recreational side. The need for routine pain management comes with the NFL territory, and the league is slowly realizing that addictive prescription painkillers may not always be the best approach. In fact, the league recently formed a committee that is evaluating the efficacy of various alternatives to opioids, including cannabidiol and non‑pharmacological interventions.
Support for this new policy has come from such big names as Brett Favre, Rob Gronkowski, Marshawn Lynch and Joe Montana — all of whom are supporters of the cannabis industry through either direct investments or paid endorsements. Eugene Monroe, formerly with the Baltimore Ravens, is one of the most outspoken advocates for NFL policy change; as he states on his website “I’m calling for the NFL to remove marijuana from the banned substances list; fund medical marijuana research, especially as it relates to CTE; and stop overprescribing addictive and harmful opioids.” (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy)