NFL’s Improved Marijuana Policy Still Needs Improvement


The National Football League is the premiere sports league in the United States and a global powerhouse. Personally, I love the NFL and appreciate the athleticism and strategy of the game. I also fear for players’ safety as players get bigger and faster. These players basically put themselves through car accidents every week for our enjoyment. Yes, many are rewarded handsomely, but you can’t put a price on your health and if you are substantially decreasing your life expectancy and quality of life after age 50, you certainly should be compensated.

Heisman Trophy Winner Ricky Williams lead the NFL with over 1,800 rushing yards in 2002.
Heisman Trophy Winner Ricky Williams lead the NFL with over 1,800 rushing yards in 2002.

I am the proponent of many safety precautions and am glad that the NFL has outlawed helmet to helmet collisions and flag extremely violent hits, despite those same hits being completely legal just a few years ago. As someone that admittedly enjoys the physical nature of the game, I will gladly put my entertainment aside for player safety. I don’t think that NFL players should be forced to play on Sunday and then again on Thursday, as the NFL should give teams playing on Thursday a bye week before Thursday games; it’s just too much to expect players to recuperate so quickly. And I definitely think that cannabis should not be on the list of banned substances, and not just because I have had Josh Gordon on my fantasy football team.

The NFL recently increased the permitted threshold from 15 nanograms of carboxy THC per milliliter of urine to 35 nanograms. Major League Baseball has a limit of 50 nanograms and the World Anti-Doping Agency, in charge of testing Olympic athletes, uses a threshold of 150. Mark Stepnoski, a Super Bowl champion lineman for the Dallas Cowboys utilized marijuana and became a spokesperson for legalization following his career. Former Heisman Trophy Winner and NFL rushing champion Ricky Williams served a one a year-long suspension for testing positive. Williams stated that he wouldn’t have ever been suspended under the updated policy and that cannabis helped his body recover.

From USA Today:

Former players such as Lomas Brown, who retired in 2012, have suggested that as many as half of NFL players use marijuana. “That’s a little high, but not too high,” says Williams, who retired in 2011. “But I’m sure there are teams where it’s at the 50% level.”

Williams says marijuana offered him pain relief, stress relief and quicker healing times.

“It’s easier on your liver,” he says. “It doesn’t cut your awareness off from your body, the way most pain medications do. It actually increases awareness of your body. So for instance when I played and I smoked, my body would relax and I’d go in the room and stretch a little bit and do some yoga. And relaxing would help my body recover faster.

Marijuana is now legal in in four states and our nation’s capital and medical use is now legal in 23 states. Over half of the population now lives in a state with some type of medical cannabis law. NFL players do not get an unfair boost in performance due to cannabis and I imagine that you would be hard pressed to find a doctor who believes that OxyContin and Vicodin are better for players than cannabis. Cannabis may not be for every player and it may not take care of every ache and pain, but it can certainly lead to less use of more addictive and dangerous pharmaceutical narcotics. Cannabis may potentially help with traumatic brain injuries. If the NFL truly cares about the safety of its players, it’s time that the league get with the modern times and at least utilize the same testing limits as the Olympics.

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.