NFL Players Association Proposing “Less Punitive” Marijuana Program


As an increasing number of athletes and coaches call on their respective leagues to evolve from the dark ages of marijuana policy, at least one major players’ union is ready to join the fight.

Top brass among the NFL Players Association are working on a proposal that would see the NFL deal with recreational marijuana use by players in a “less punitive” manner.

DeMaurice Smith-NFLPA-football

DeMaurice Smith / AP

This news comes down from the top of the NFLPA, Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who told a pool of Washington Post reporters that the next step in the process will be presenting the plan to the NFLPA’s player representative board. Should the players approve of the proposed marijuana reform within the collective bargaining agreement, the NFLPA would then present the amendment to the NFL.

The most recent revisions to the NFL’s drug policy came in 2014, when the league and NFLPA agreed to raise the threshold for a positive marijuana test from 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine to 35 nanograms. The World Doping Agency, who oversees Olympic drug testing, only considers samples with over 150 ng/mL of THC as positive tests.

“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” Smith said to the Washington Post. “I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”

Smith added:

“We have to do a better job of knowing if our players are suffering from other potentially dangerous psychological issues like depression, right? So if I look at this myopically as just a recreational use of marijuana and miss the fact that we might have players suffering from depression, what have I fixed? Worse yet, you may have solved an issue that gets the steady drumbeat in a newspaper but miss an issue like chronic depression . . . where a person theoretically might be able to smoke more weed because it makes them feel better but it’s not curing their depression. So to me, as we’re looking at that front end — and it’s been a long process — the reason why I think it’s more complicated than just making a quick decision about recreational use is we look at these things as a macro-issue. And what we try to do is what a union’s supposed to do: improve the health and safety of our players in a business that sometimes can seriously exacerbate existing physical and mental issues.”

The fight for marijuana reform in the NFL rages on as more and more players start to question the volume of painkillers they are given to stay on the field.

ESPN recently conducted a survey of over 225 active NFL players and concluded that nearly two-thirds of current NFL players say prescription painkiller use would be less prevalent if the league allowed them to utilize marijuana for the same purpose. Of the 226 players polled, 137 (61 percent) claimed that fewer of their fellow players would utilize pain-masking drugs like Toradol shots if marijuana was available. Among the same players surveyed, 64 percent were administered Toradol, making it the most common painkiller used in the NFL today.

The other argument for an easement of marijuana penalties in the NFL is the plant’s evolving legal status in many cities and states where NFL teams call home. Currently, 23 NFL teams are based in states with either legalized medical or adult-use marijuana.

Currently, the collectively bargained punishment schedule for marijuana in the NFL is as follows:

  • The first failed test results in the player being entered into the league’s substance abuse program, which places them under greater scrutiny going forward, including more frequent drug screenings.
  • A second positive test result will require a fine equal to two game checks from the player, which is pretty pricey, as you can imagine. So not only is the NFL asking players to perform without the aide of a safe and non-habit forming natural painkiller, but they’re not going to pay them for it should they test positive.
  • On the player’s third violation, the fine increases to the equivalent of four games worth of income.
  • Once a player tests positive for cannabis a fourth time, they are suspended without pay for four games.
  • A fifth violation results in a ten-game suspension without compensation.
  • If a player is flagged for a positive test a sixth time, they are banned from the NFL for one calendar year, after which they can apply for reinstatement pending league review.

“It’s legal where I live,” said one anonymous player to ESPN, “but not where I work.”

When asked how he thought the NFL would respond to the plan, if and when the pitch happens, DeMaurice Smith didn’t seem to be giving it much thought.

“I don’t spend time thinking about what the league thinks,” Smith explained. “I mean, it’s a waste of time … We will sit down and we will present a proposal to our board. If our board approves the proposal, we’ll sit down with the league and we will make the proposal to them. If we think that this is medically, scientifically and therapeutically the right position, then we tell the league, ‘Therapeutically, medically and scientifically, this is the right position.’

Do you think the NFL should loosen its restrictions on marijuana use among players? Let us know in the comment section and join the conversation on Facebook.

Cover image courtesy of Grantland

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Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you'd like to read way fewer words by me.


  1. Good grief…the NFL now wants to get involved in regulating marijuana! Isn’t regulating our sex lives and trying to get politically involved in every aspect of our lives keeping them busy enough? I’m getting disgusted with the NFL all too fast.

  2. If there has to be a level, the world doping association level of 150ng/ml makes more sense than 25 or 35 as it currently is set.

    But the real issue is player health. If the league really cared about that, they’d have no penalties for marijuana usage given its clear from many sources, including the poll of players, that they’d consume less opioid and related pain killers if they could smoke a little weed. That’s goodness no matter how. you look at it.

    Obviously we’re not talking practicing or playing stoned, but they don’t allow players to do that when boozed up either. Coaches are super tuned-in to behavior and performance and they’d notice either of those.

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