The NFL Players Association Wants to Treat Cannabis Use as a Medical Issue Similar to Concussions
Executive director DeMaurice Smith wants positive drug tests to result in consultation and therapy instead of punishment.
Published on March 4, 2017

The NFL Players Association will get together for their annual meeting later this month, and cannabis will be a significant topic of discussion. And while players and their agents worry about how possible federal cannabis enforcement could affect the league, the NFLPA is also hoping to change league policy concerning positive marijuana tests.

In an interview with USA Today, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith stressed the importance of treating cannabis use as a medical issue, and one that may be an indicator of other, more serious conditions.

“I think that there is a better way,” Smith said, “to evaluate players who test positive for marijuana to figure out whether or not they have just a recreational use issue, whether they have an addiction problem, but equally important, whether or not they’re using marijuana as a result of some other issue that we’re not even looking for – whether there is a depression issue, whether there is an anxiety issue. And currently, the way the system works, that evaluation, that therapeutic look at the player isn’t occurring.”

Smith didn’t discuss cannabis as a viable medical option for football players facing immense physical pain and stress, but the Players Association has formed a pain management committee that will explore the possible benefits of CBD for NFL players and look to find other alternatives to opioid based pain pills.

But while cannabis remains on the banned substance list, Smith is dedicated to finding a more comprehensive reaction to player use than just punishment. The way he sees it, positive cannabis tests should be treated like concussions, and require a comprehensive analysis.

“This is an issue of scientifically, therapeutically and medically, are we doing the right thing with respect to people who test positive for marijuana under the policy?” Smith told USA Today. “And when you ask those three questions, you get answers, and then the idea is we will come up with and present a proposal to the executive committee based on those three things. I see this potential change in the drug policy exactly the same way (as concussion protocol). If we aren’t looking at ways to address serious health and safety issues that our players may have, that’s a problem. And so we’re going to look at it and see if there’s a fix to the problem, and then hold the league accountable to their obligation as the employer.”

A revised cannabis policy would first have to pass multiple NFLPA voting groups, including the association’s executive commission and board of representatives, before finally being sent to the league itself. And if the NFL can start to make some headway into how marijuana is dealt with from the medical side, it could help in the fight to remove cannabis from the league’s banned substance list.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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