The use of cannabis in sports has been a hot-button topic for years now, as many players have become more open with their use of cannabis for both health and recreational purposes. The NBA made history when they announced that they would not be randomly testing players for marijuana during their COVID-19 shortened season which ended in the bubble. It was recently announced that the NBA Marijuana Policy would continue into the 20-21 season, with players not undergoing cannabis testing.
For years, the NBA had what was widely considered the harshest cannabis policy in all of the American professional sports. Players were not only subject to random testing but were also required to undergo “reasonable cause” testing. That NBA cannabis policy dated back to an agreement between the league and the players’ association that was reached in 1983. Depending on the number of times a player failed a drug test under the former program, the punishment could range from a league-mandated drug program to a suspension, with fines also being a possibility.
While NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver has widely been considered one of the most forward-thinking commissioners in sports, the true driving force behind this recent change is Michele Roberts, the head of the NBAPA. Roberts’s position atop the players’ association preceded her recent appointment to the board of Cresco Labs, one of the largest cannabis companies in the United States. Upon her appointment to the board of Cresco Labs, Roberts explained that players were no longer going to be exposed to unnecessary risks and that it was “not necessary for the league to know whether players are positive for cannabis.
Silver, while still widely considered a revolutionary commissioner, has indicated that he wants to handle the new policy carefully so younger fans of the NBA do not get the wrong impression about the association’s stance on condoning cannabis use. Silver compared cannabis to alcohol, which is obviously a legal substance, and explained the need for teaching responsible use of any substance.
The new NBA cannabis policy does not necessarily treat cannabis as a legal substance as the legal battle around the substance continues in Washington. Players who have a history of violating the league’s substance-abuse policy are still subject to “just cause” testing and still face disciplinary action from the league if they fail the test.
The NBA is the most recent league to acknowledge the use of cannabis in sports. Major League Baseball announced earlier this year that players would no longer be tested for cannabis. However, the rule also does not allow for teams to sign advertisement deals with cannabis companies. The NFL has also softened their stance on the use of cannabis, having recently shortened the testing window and eliminated the possibility of players being suspended for a failed test.
The presence of cannabis in sports is unlikely to go anywhere. As research continues to come to the surface about the medical benefits of THC compared to the potentially life-threatening side effects of opiates and other pain killers, players will continue to look for a way to safely take care of their bodies. The NBA’s relaxing of some of the most rigorous cannabis-related rules is simply another step in the right direction.