Recently leaked news out of the National Football League has confirmed that the ultra-conservative league, faced with the growing acceptance of legal marijuana, is considering lifting its ban on use of cannabis by players. The foremost issue is ironing out the complicated details with marijuana still illegal at the federal level.
NBC’s Pro Football Talk recently reported that the NFL is considering changes to its policy on marijuana, which currently is a complete ban, when it puts together the next collective bargaining agreement with players. The current agreement lasts through the end of the 2020 season.
The site reported that “per a league source, the NFL is prepared to make major concessions regarding the substance-abuse policy, especially as it relates to marijuana.”
As slow-moving as the NFL is, it’s apparently faster than the U.S. Congress in changing its approach to cannabis, now legal in 33 states for either recreational or medical purposes.
Current Policy, Past Players
As things stand, the NFL prohibits the use of marijuana by its players, disregarding the many former players who have come out in favor of marijuana. Some are proponents of using marijuana as an alternative to opioids in dealing with pain, something every NFL player experiences to one degree or another.
Among those who have come out in favor of marijuana use for pain management is Joe Montana, the legendary quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers (and Kansas City Chiefs, but not quite so legendarily).
Montana’s Liquid 2 Ventures recently was part of a $75 million investment in a California company that runs a marijuana farm, retail store, distribution center and delivery service. Montana has said for years that he believes marijuana can provide relief for those suffering from pain without having to use opioids.
He’s not alone. Ricky Williams, the former Miami Dolphin running back who was treated like an outcast for his cannabis use during his playing days, has started his own cannabis business. Other NFL players who advocate for marijuana are Franco Harris and Jack Ham, both members of famous Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s.
Why the Change?
Certainly, the league has been influenced both by all the former stars advocating for marijuana and the fact that medical marijuana is legal in most states. However, marijuana is a complex issue for the NFL. Crafting a marijuana policy is difficult for the NFL because Congress has not removed marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, and it is unlikely it will with Republicans controlling the Senate.
Marijuana is regulated by a patchwork quilt of state laws, which leaves the NFL in a difficult spot. They could simply allow players to use marijuana under the law of the state where their home team plays, but “plenty of free agents will flock to teams in states where it’s legal,” NBC reported. The league also has the option of simply dropping mention of marijuana all together from its list of banned drugs and not testing players for using cannabis.
All this came out as David Irving, a player for the Dallas Cowboys, announced he was quitting the league after getting suspended again for marijuana use. Irving announced his decision in an Instagram video as he smoked a joint, preaching the use of “plants over pills.”