The National Football League has recently ratified a ten-year agreement with the players union. The new contract features several progressive changes to the way America’s largest sports league interacts with the players who keep it in business. The changes include a one-percentage-point increase in the share of league revenue that the players will receive.
Also among the changes is an overhaul to the NFL’s policy regarding marijuana use by players. The league, which is often considered one of the more conservative sports conferences, has long had strict regulations against the use of pot by players, requiring them to submit to regular drug tests between April and August of each year, and mandating that any player who tests positive for marijuana use be suspended.
The strict regulations, however, have become antiquated as more and more states across the US have legalized pot in some form, whether for medicinal purposes (in 33 states) or for recreational use (in 11 states). In fact, only two football teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans, play in states where pot is all-out illegal. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, the nation’s second and third highest-grossing athletic leagues, have already eased their marijuana policies, and the NFL is taking a liberal step to catch up.
Under the new guidelines, players cannot be suspended for simply testing positive for THC, the active chemical found in marijuana. Testing will now be limited to the first two weeks of training camp and the threshold for the amount of THC in a player’s system that will trigger a positive test result will be raised fourfold.
These changes do not represented a complete overhaul. Though positive-testing players will no longer be suspended, they can still face fines equal to several weeks’ salary, depending on the magnitude of their test results. As in the past, players will be forced to partake in a week long treatment program the first time they test positive. Players who refuse to take part in testing or clinical care can be suspended for three games after a fourth violation, with escalating penalties for further violations.
The push for looser marijuana policies has come from both current and former NFL players, some of whom argue that marijuana is a less-addictive remedy to pain than prescription medications. Coaches have also argued that the old rules were an unnecessary barrier, since they often kept the best players off the field.
Former Patriots tight-end Rob Gronkowski has even entered the cannabis market as an investor and advocate for CBD products, which he credits with relieving his sports-related chronic pain.