According to The Denver Post, late Friday, the NFLPA unanimously approved the terms of a new drug policy that includes the implementation of testing for Human Growth Hormone — a performance enhancing drug — as well as an increase in the threshold for testing positive for marijuana.
The agreement with the NFL and NFLPA opens up the possibility for players suspended on drug policy violations to return to the field. Cleveland.com reported that Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns receiver, will have his suspension reduced from a season-long ban to 10 games once the new drug policy is finalized and formally approved.
“This is a historic moment for our players and our league,” NFLPA president Eric Winston said in a statement. “We have collectively bargained drug policies that will keep the game clean and safe, but also provide players with an unprecedented level of fairness and transparency. Players should be proud of their union for standing up for what was best for the game.”
Although the threshold for a positive test for marijuana will increase to 35 ng/ml from the previous 15 ng/ml, the new marijuana threshold is a standard much lower than those used in most other sports. The threshold for a positive test for marijuana should have increased to the 150 ng/ml limit — used by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which conducts Olympic athlete testing — that was originally suggested.
Moreover, the new terms of the drug policy still prove draconian given the chronic pain endured by most NFL players and the fact that, by most measures, the use of medical marijuana to relieve pain is far less harmful than the prescription painkillers that players currently rely on.
As former player Nate Jackson recently stated in a New York Times op-ed, “Virtually every single player in the NFL has a certifiable need for medical marijuana.”
In this case, the fact that players are still not permitted to use medical marijuana is inexplicable — even when 15 teams are based in states where medical marijuana can be recommended legally and most, if not all, players have a very legitimate need for it.
It appears as though the NFL is finally progressing towards changing its controversial drug policy. According to a NBC Sports story, the NFLPA plans to vote tonight on proposed changes to the NFL’s existing drug policy. The changes, if ratified, may include an increased threshold for which players are allowed to test positive for marijuana. However, the NFLPA first needs to get a proposal from the league itself. According to the NBC Sports posting, that has not happened yet.
“The players are prepared to vote on a proposal from NFL tonight but they will need something to review well in advance of that vote,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told PFT by phone. “As of right now, there’s nothing yet. Players have been informed of the status of the league’s proposal on an ongoing basis. [On Monday], [NFLPA president] Eric Winston and [NFLPA executive committee member] Brian Waters reiterated the importance of a fair due process for hGH testing, a line in the sand with respect to player discipline before a fair due process on DUIs, and also other issues that were important to them.”
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="266"] Josh Gordon[/caption]
The “other issues” include the manner in which players are processed through the substance abuse policy, amid much criticism and media attention regarding the use of marijuana and the Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Josh Gordon’s, suspension.
According to Nate Jackson, a New York Times op-ed contributor and former tight end that medicated with marijuana for most of his career, “Gordon has marijuana in his system. He broke the rules. I understand that. But this is a rule that absurdly equates marijuana with opiates, opioids, and PCP. The NFL’s threshold for disciplinary action for marijuana is 10 times higher than the one used by the International Olympic Committee.”
The NFL rethinking their approach to marijuana is long overdue. Their current policy reflects outdated stances onmarijuana and pain management, penalizes players who seek an alternative to painkillers, keeps them in a perpetual state of injury and injury management, and risks creating new addicts.
In the end, as stated by MPP’s Morgan Fox, “The NFL’s harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players.” [MPP emphasis added]
Since 2011, the NFL has been internally debating its drug policy, which includes testing for human growth hormones. If the current revisions to the drug policy are approved, the threshold for a positive marijuana test will be significantly increased, and punishments for violating the policy will be reduced.
The delay in these changes to the NFL policy stems from a “continued standoff over arbitration of discipline,” according to ESPN. “In cases of non-analytical positives (i.e., an Alex Rodriguez-type case in which a player is found to be in violation of the drug policy by some method other than a failed test) or in cases of violations of law (i.e., a player getting caught trying to smuggle prescription drugs across the Canadian border), the NFLPA has asked that discipline appeals be heard by an independent arbitrator.”
However, the NFL insists that the commissioner (Roger Goodell) has final say over disciplinary matters. Once this power struggle over the administration of discipline is resolved, the changes to the NFL’s drug policy should go into effect.
Jonathan Ogden, retired Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle, has applied for a medical marijuana dispensary license in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. There are a limited number of licenses available in Nevada, so it is still unclear whether or not Ogden will own a dispensary.
One hundred and nine other companies have filed applications, and only 66 will be licensed this year, 40 of which will reside in Las Vegas (Clark county) where Ogden has applied. Applicants must also show they have $250,000 in liquid assets and have a licensed physician as the medical director to apply.
Hopefully, the NFL will feel the pressure of having Hall of Fame leaders like Ogden publicly support medical marijuana. The NFL's stance on medical marijuana hasn’t evolved to the same extent as that of the nation at large, and the organization still imposes strict laws on players via steep fines and suspensions. However, with the NBA and NCAA rethinking their marijuana-use policies, perhaps, the NFL will move in the direction of acceptance.
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, in which it so happens both teams hail from states that recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, pressure is mounting on the league to reconsider its ban. A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, the group says, is less harmful than alcohol.
It’s a fair question. Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, for starters, and more than 20 states have legalized it for medical purposes. The league would merely be catching up to contemporary practice by creating a medical exception.
As public opinion and state laws move away from strict prohibition, it’s reasonable for the NFL to do the same and let its players deal with their injuries as they — and their private doctors — see fit.
After seeing the massive popularity of the billboards MPP posted near the stadium where the Super Bowl will take place that emphasize the objective safety of marijuana compared to alcohol, Project SAM decided to insert their outdated message into the conversation.
On Tuesday, MPP unveiled a series of billboards surrounding MetLife Stadium, site of the upcoming Super Bowl, that have been getting a lot of attention. These ads highlight the fact that marijuana is objectively safer than both alcohol and football, and call on the NFL to stop punishing players for using the safer option.
This is especially noteworthy this year, as the two teams playing in the Super Bowl are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both of whose home states made marijuana legal for adults in 2012.
Here's a picture of one of the ads from the ground, and you can view the rest on our website.
On Wednesday, MPP's Mason Tvert presented a Change.org petition calling on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to get rid of the policy of punishing players for using marijuana. The petition currently has more than 12,000 signatures.
Last week, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) reported that it was changing its marijuana policies after mounting pressure from MPP, athletes, and promoters who said the strictness and penalties were far too severe and driving athletes to drink or use dangerous drugs.
According to Bleacher Report, the threshold for failing a marijuana test for athletes was raised from 50 ng/mL of THC in the bloodstream to 150 ng/mL, in line with what the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended for global athletic regulatory bodies.
MPP protested the previous policies with a billboard and petition to the NSAC in March after boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. was suspended and fined $900,000 for testing positive for marijuana metabolites. In May, WADA recommended raising the limit to 150 ng/mL to exclude prior marijuana use that could not possibly contribute to current impairment. The very next month, Marc Ratner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship announced that it was putting its self-regulatory policies in line with the WADA recommendations.
While it will still be possible to test positive under the new threshold, it will be very difficult for prior marijuana use to disqualify or punish fighters and other athletes. When Nevada makes marijuana legal in 2016, they will truly be able to make the safer choice of substances without fear of unnecessary penalties.
MPP is also pressuring other sports organizations, such as the NFL, to stop punishing players for using marijuana.
For years, the National Football League has been punishing athletes for using marijuana despite the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol, a substance widely embraced by the league. Now that the U.S. Justice Department has announced it will allow states to legalize marijuana, the NFL needs to recognize and respect those laws, too.
To draw attention to this important petition, MPP is unveiling a giant billboard across the street from Mile High Stadium in Denver, where the NFL’s first regular season game of the year will be taking place tomorrow. The Denver Broncos-themed ad reads, “Stop driving players to drink! A safer choice is now legal (here),” referencing the Colorado legalization law MPP helped pass in November.
The NFL would never punish a player simply for having a beer or cocktail, so why does it levy severe penalties against them for using a substance that is less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violence? The NFL's harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players. If anything, they put them in danger by steering them toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana instead.
Help us change the way our society views and treats marijuana by signing our petition to the NFL today. Tell the league to stop driving players to drink with severe penalties for using marijuana, especially in states where marijuana has been made legal for adult or medical use.
Even though it is now legal to smoke marijuana in Colorado, a Denver Broncos linebacker is facing a four-game suspension for allegedly testing positive for marijuana. Under the NFL’s substance abuse policy, players can face suspension and fines of thousands of dollars for using illegal drugs, including marijuana.
Von Miller, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft and is considered by some the Broncos’ best defensive player, is in the process of appealing the decision. He took to his Twitter feed to claim his innocence in the matter, saying, “I know I did nothing wrong. I’m sure this’ll be resolved fairly.”
Regardless of whether Miller used marijuana, athletes should not have to vehemently deny using a substance safer than alcohol or be dragged through the mud by the press and sports executives.
Mason Tvert of MPP commented on the NFL’s policy, saying “Obviously, we don't see professional athletes being punished simply for having a beer or a glass of wine on a weekend during the off-season. So there's absolutely no reason they should be punished for using a less harmful substance."