Everybody knows that athletes love weed. A photo of 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps ripping a bong circulated the internet in 2009 while UFC star Ronda Rousey openly supports leaving marijuana off of drug tests, and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch even has a strain of marijuana named after him. Snoop Dogg says that Lynch doesn’t smoke, but we’re not sure how accurate that is after watching his interviews?
Regardless of which athletes are open about smoking, there are so many medical advantages from marijuana usage that apply directly to them. Football players especially have to handle pain on a daily basis so marijuana usage for them only makes sense…not to mention the benefits marijuana provides for relieving mental stress after a difficult game. It’s also pretty much impossible to die from smoking too much marijuana…a stark contrast from an athlete’s other option for pain relief using opioid-based painkillers. Retired NFL players like Larry Chester and Eugene Monroe say that switching from opioids to CBD was life-saving for them.
The NFL understands with marijuana legalization currently waterfalling across states it’s only a matter of time before they start to feel more pressure to loosen their strict anti-marijuana rules. Through and through the NFL is a business, however. They won’t soften their policies just because it’s the right thing to do; instead they will most likely try to bargain with the NFL Players Association union (NFLPA) to cut a deal for allowing players to use marijuana. It’s going to be difficult for the NFL, however, as retired tight end Martellus Bennett says that he estimates at least 89% of NFL players already use marijuana without NFL’s knowledge. Detroit Lions running back Mike James tried to go through the NFL system legally in March of this year and ended up becoming the first player in NFL history to file for a therapeutic use exemption for cannabis use. James decided to try cannabis when his dependency on opioid painkillers became dangerous, after he was prescribed the pills by a doctor for an ankle injury. The NFL declined his application a month later, which only signals to other players they might as well not even try to reason with the NFL about cannabis usage.
The NFL’s current policy states players must be drug tested once during a four-month period, from April 20th to August 9th, which means they’re allowed to consume marijuana virtually worry-free for the other eight months. Even if they do smoke during the four-month period they’re scheduled for the drug test, there are plenty of detox drinks that actually work which players can use to pass the test as well. It’s not clear if the NFL already has plans to try and make a deal with the NFLPA, but they have to keep in mind that players can already get away with consuming marijuana and passing their drug tests. The NFL could take a page from the NHL, as the NHL doesn’t punish players for casually using marijuana, but considering the NFL’s current stance it would be surprising if they didn’t try to get something in return from the union.
Any direction the NFL chooses to go will have an impact on many of their players, though it’s unclear what that direction will be. One thing that remains clear is that marijuana is now here to stay, so it’s up to the organization to determine if they want to step in line with progression, or if they want to create another uphill battle for themselves as marijuana becomes less stigmatized…especially after their first uptick in ratings after a tumultuous 2017 season.