In 2020, the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) and NFL team owners will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA will outline rules for wages, revenue division, and health and safety, among other issues. The use of marijuana by NFL players will surely be at the forefront of health and safety concerns during this CBA discussion. Both the recreational use and the medicinal use of marijuana is currently prohibited under NFL rules, despite seven NFL teams existing in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. 2020 will likely mark a change in the NFL marijuana policy, though its extent will likely depend upon the individual attitudes of owners towards the drug.
On Wednesday March 1, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith introduced the organization’s goals for marijuana reform in 2020. Smith told USA Today Sports that the union hopes to dive deeper into the issue of marijuana, going further than merely punishing offenders. Rather than suspending or fining policy violators, the NFLPA is looking to expand their knowledge of marijuana usage among players. Smith told USA Today that the union is advocating for a system “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 [they are] not even looking for – whether there is a depression issue, whether there is an anxiety issue.”
It seems that both the NFL and the NFLPA are not looking to make recreational marijuana legal. Instead, the Player’s Association is likely looking to amend the system of punishment for offenders across the league. Currently, players are tested for marijuana on a bi-annual basis. If a player fails a drug test, they enter stage one of the NFL drug intervention program, which may result in a fine. The player will then remain in stage one for 90 days, and if they fail a test, the player moves to stage two. Stage two lasts for two years, and an infraction may result in a 4-6-week suspension. Any further failed tests will result in a suspension up to ten weeks along with frequent, random drug tests.
By 2020, this punitive system may change, but marijuana still could remain banned for recreational use. Instead of setting their sights on the recreational side, the NFLPA has assembled a committee to study the place that medical marijuana should have in the game of football. While the NFLPA has described the committee as one to examine pain management across the league, it will certainly address the potential use of medical marijuana. The concept has been met with generally positive feedback from the league. During a fan forum, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answered a question regarding a potential shift in league policy by saying, “If for some reason we believe that there’s a potential change that can benefit our players and it’s medically supported with facts, then we will certainly consider it.” The league appears to align itself with science, making medical marijuana a possibility for the 2020 CBA.
The usage of medical marijuana in the NFL is necessitated by the current usage of prescription pain medication, as well as the medical potential of weed. Currently, players work to combat pain using prescription pain medications like Toradol. Toradol is an anti-inflammatory pain medication that many players take right before a game in order to play through an injury. A Bleacher Report survey of 50 NFL players found that 23 had used Toradol for years. According to the report, some players even detailed the use of opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. If the NFL continues its usage of prescription pain medication, it creates serious risks for player safety. These drugs are highly addictive, but are viewed by many as a necessity for the sport. In a collision-based sport, pain management becomes a daily issue. Many players feel the need to turn to prescription medicine just to keep their spot on the team or their spot in the starting lineup. Instead, the NFL should be allowing players to use medical marijuana as a much less addictive alternative to prescription painkillers. Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states plus Washington D.C. and is known to provide pain relief. CBD, an active ingredient in marijuana, serves as an anti-inflammatory in lab tests. There are legitimate medicinal values for marijuana and, at the very least, it is much less addictive than the alternatives used in the modern NFL. The NFL has recently emphasized the science within the sport of football, making it likely that medical marijuana policy will be amended in the next CBA. Until then, players will continue to rely on prescription pain medication to get them onto the field.