NFL: Players Will No Longer be Suspended for Cannabis

Miraculously there is some very good news coming out of the sports world this week.

A single football in a football AstroTurf Source:iStock

Miraculously, however, there is some very good news coming out of the sports world this week.

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Up until now, the National Football League has had the harshest punishment for marijuana use of any other sport in the United States, even threatening indefinite suspension if you test positive for pot. That all changed last week.

The NFL’s old rule said players could be tested at any point in a nearly-five-month football pre-season, between April 20thand early August. Players could have a test sprung on them at any point throughout that period, meaning they had to remain clean the entire time, or risk getting kicked off the team.

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But that doesn’t mean players can’t light up starting the day before the test – marijuana use registers in urine for weeks after its consumption, and in some cases can still be detected up to 100 days later in regular users.

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The new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t scrap marijuana rules entirely, but it’s still a win for cannabis users who want to play pro football. That April-to-August window is now just two weeks long, right at the start of training camp, and fewer players will be subject to testing at all.

It reduces the penalties for those who do test positive, and says no one will be suspended solely for having a positive test. And it increases the nanogram limit of what the NFL considers a positive test result from 35 to 150.

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Drug Science, a cannabinoid advocacy group established in 2000, says that change in allowed nanogram intake amounts to about the difference between 3 puffs of something with 1.75% THC versus about 14.

Cannabis use in the NFL

The changes should come as a huge relief to countless NFL players. In the 2017 season alone, for instance, half a dozen players were suspended for marijuana use. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant missed all of 2016 football, and went without pay because of failing marijuana tests.

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The Baltimore Ravens’ Darren Waller got a year-long suspension for a positive test, after missing four games the year before for the same reason. And Randy Gregory of the Dallas Cowboys failed his seventh drug test in 2017.

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In 2016, almost two-thirds of NFL players who answered an ESPN survey said they felt the use of opioids and other chemical painkillers would go down among football players if the league allowed them to use marijuana to treat pain instead.

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And a whopping 71% of those surveyed believed marijuana use should be legal, although only four states allowed recreational use at the time the players answered that question.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explains,

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In the survey, 61 percent of players said they believed fewer players would take pain-killing shots such as Toradol if marijuana were a legal option. Toradol is the most common anti-inflammatory taken by NFL players, and 64 percent of the survey’s respondents said they had taken an injection of it or another pain killer.

Marijuana has less known side effects than Toradol, and 41 percent of players surveyed thought it would control pain more effectively. Nearly 60 percent are worried about the long-term effects of chemical painkillers, and 42 percent believe they have had a teammate become addicted to chemical painkillers.”

How other major sports deal with cannabis use

Other sports are getting on board with the idea that marijuana isn’t evil, too.

Major League Baseball changed its drug policy in December 2019 to scrap marijuana from its list of banned substance for players in the minor league (which has been the standard for major league players for some time now).

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In the NBA, there are no tests in the offseason, but players are subject to four tests given at random throughout the regular season. If you test positive once, you have to enter a substance abuse program.

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A second positive results in a $25,000 fine. A third gets you suspended from five games, and each positive test after that adds another five games you can’t play in.

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For hockey players, there’s no punishment for testing positive. Instead, the NHL and NHLPA say if a player has what it classifies as “abnormally high levels” of THC, physicians will recommend treatment and ensure the player gets help if they need it.

The CBA the NFL just signed makes a number of other big changes, too. Here are some highlights:

  • Wages
    • Rookie Minimum salaries are being raised by $100,000 this year, then another $50,000 in 2021, and $45,000 each year after that
    • Other minimum salaried players will have at least $90,000 more this year, then a raise between $80,000 and $105,000 in 2021, followed by $45,000 extra each year after that
    • There’s now a new four-year-benefit that adds up to $1.25 million in salary for up to two players
    • There’s a projected $5 billion increase going to players over the next ten years
  • Training Camp
    • There’s now a five-day acclimation period for players
    • Padded and full-speed practices are limited to 2.5 hours, and players can’t spend more than 16 days in pads
    • There’s now a three-day weekend at the end of camp if there are 17 games planned
    • Joint practices are limited to four total if there are three preseason games
  • Working Conditions
    • Visiting team locker rooms must be improved
    • There are new standards for rehabilitation facilities, training rooms, and equipment
  • Benefits
    • Active players
      • 10% pension increase
      • The matching contribution to players’ 401K is going up by $30,000 and will be increased annually after that
      • Tuition reimbursement is increasing for both active and former players
      • The healthcare plan must now have vision coverage
      • Injury Protection and Extended Injury Protection are being increased
      • Termination pay is being increased
  • Former players
    • There will be a new network of hospitals where former players can receive physicals at no cost, as well as preventative care, mental health counseling, and out-patient orthopedic surgeries.
    • Coverage of common surgeries, however, will be phased out
  • Rights
    • There will be a reduction of on-field fines and club fines
    • Commission Discipline cases will now have a neutral party to make decisions
    • There will be clear parameters for ownership and usage of player data
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