There exists a painkiller, a drug, that is innocuous even in the highest dosages. Many athletes, including retired NFL player Eugene Monroe, attest to its efficacy in treating pain and improving their quality of life. Even more promising is this drug’s suspected neuro-protective capabilities, which, if factual, would present a massive leap forward in the fight against CTE and concussions. This drug is also actively prohibited, tested for and a cause of fines and suspension in all of the United States’ major sports leagues. Yes, I’m talking about marijuana.
All of the major sports leagues in the United States ban marijuana with varying degrees of testing and punitive measures in place. The NBA randomly tests players for prohibited substances four times throughout the regular season, which has predictably resulted in the league’s weed enthusiasts living large in the offseason before putting the bong to rest for opening day tip-off. Punishment in the NBA results in a five-game suspension after a third positive test. A fourth (or beyond) infraction tacks on a new suspension five games longer than the prior.
In the NFL, a fourth failed or missed test triggers a four-game suspension, followed by a loss of 10 games and then a full-year ban for a fifth and sixth positive. Players are tested once in the offseason and then, if they fail that test, as frequently as a medical examiner determines necessary.
In baseball, minor league players are subjected to far stricter testing policies and penalties for marijuana than their major league peers. This is because the minor league players are not protected by the MLB Players Association. Minor league pitcher Phil Bickford was dealt a 50-game suspension to start the 2017 season for a second marijuana infraction. If he were to test positive twice more he would be banned from organized baseball permanently. MLB players face, at worst, escalating fines up to $35,000. Subjecting minor league players with far less job security to such a stringent policy is, at best, nonsensical.
These policies are incomprehensible considering the medical benefits attributed to marijuana and the majority of Americans’ changing attitudes regarding cannabis. The Pew Research Center found in October 2016 that a majority of Americans now support legalization while only 37 percent support the continued illegality of the drug. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational is legal in seven states plus the District of Columbia. Clearly the public is supportive, and there is possibly no group that would benefit from legalization more than athletes.
Professional athletes suffer from opioid abuse as a result of years of pain management. Marijuana provides an alternative option that has demonstrated promise in treating pain, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. For those who worry about stoned athletes getting into vehicles, cannabidiol is a compound found in the marijuana plant that offers all the benefits of THC without the high.
Laws banning marijuana are antiquated, repressive and discriminatory. Similar policies in sports leagues are no different, denying athletes access to a safe and needed treatment option and turning sports leagues into pseudo police-states. It’s time the major leagues relax. Marijuana is a great first step.