NFL’s Marijuana Policy: Things to Know

At present, the NFL maintains a hard-line anti-marijuana policy. Meanwhile, common sense and a large number of former players are calling for the legalization of the herb in the National Football League. If you have only ever watched a few minutes of one NFL game, you’ll know that the players are at constant risk of […]


At present, the NFL maintains a hard-line anti-marijuana policy. Meanwhile, common sense and a large number of former players are calling for the legalization of the herb in the National Football League. If you have only ever watched a few minutes of one NFL game, you’ll know that the players are at constant risk of serious injury.

NFL’s Marijuana Policy: Things to Know

Indeed, the number of injuries in the NFL is increasing at a frightening rate. In 2010, there were 3,191 injuries relating to playing. By 2018, the number had increased to 8,166!

There is no question that the standard of reporting injuries has improved drastically. However, it is also true to say that more players than ever before are sitting on the sidelines due to an injury picked up in training or during a game.

We see these athletes give their all on the field, but few of us understand the pain and suffering they endure. This agony often only intensifies once their careers end. In August 2019, Le’Ron McClain, who played in the league for seven seasons and retired in 2013, pleaded with the NFL to help him. Le’Ron wrote that his brain is f***ing tired and revealed the dark truth behind NFL retirement.

Even if you take good care of yourself, the legacy of a career taking severe blows to the head and body eventually takes a toll. An increasing number of stars retire early. Andrew Luck announced his retirement this year at the age of 29. The quarterback revealed that he is in severe pain and the level of his injuries left him with no option but to leave the game he loves.

Other high-profile players to retire due to severe injury include Jim McMahon, Gale Sayers, Randy Grimes, and Eddie Williams. Williams attempted suicide in 2011 while Junior Seau, who retired in 2010, committed suicide two years later aged 43. The National Institutes of Health later revealed that he had traumatic encephalopathy.

What Is the NFL Policy on Cannabis Use?

Former Philadelphia Eagles player, Chris Long, referred to the existing NFL policy on marijuana as ‘dumb’ when he spoke to Sports Illustrated in August 2019. At present, drug tests are random in the league.

This means players have no clue when a tester is coming (although there is a specific window which we explain later.) The NFL posts a note with the official letterhead of the league, in the locker stall of a player, and they submit a urine sample for testing.

The existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) states that the first positive cannabis test result means a punishment of enrolling in a substance abuse program. However, you don’t receive a ban.

A second positive test nets you a two-game fine. If you test positive for a third time, you get a four-game fine. A fourth positive test means a four-game ban, and a fifth positive result means a 10-game ban. Subsequent positive test results might mean expulsion from the league.

When the NFL and NFLPA negotiated the CBA in 2011, they agreed that the threshold required to fail a drug screening was 15 nanograms of THC per ml. In 2014, the ‘failure’ limit was raised to 35ng/ml. For the record, the threshold in Major League Baseball is 50ng/ml, and the World Anti-Doping Agency has a 150ng/ml limit.

What Is the NFL Policy on Cannabis Use?

The NFL has expressed a willingness for leniency but has offered nothing concrete on that front. One of the main problems is the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, who apparently lives in the Reefer Madness era.

According to Goodell, weed is an addictive and unhealthy substance. He has no issue with players consuming opioid painkillers like they are frozen peas, however.

What Do NFL Doctors Say About Marijuana?

Back in 2016, he claimed that the league’s doctors were against the use of marijuana, even on a medicinal basis. Several years on, and the herb is legal medicinally in two-thirds of American states. Goodell has never offered any evidence to back up his antiquated view of weed, and the league’s players suffer for it.

During an interview on the Dan Patrick Show in May 2019, Chris Long explained how he regularly used cannabis during his career without ever testing positive. According to Long, the NFL only tests once per year at a pre-arranged date. This is a far cry from the ‘official’ random test dates. Long also said that he wouldn’t classify weed as a drug, and said it was far less harmful than alcohol.

As a result, players can stop using weed in time to beat the test, and resume it once they pass. That said, this ‘window’ is between April 20 and August 9 and only applies to players who have never previously tested positive.

As it takes weeks of abstention to pass a urine test if you are a regular marijuana user. It is necessary to use a different painkiller for this period. Long admitted using sleeping pills, prescription painkillers, and alcohol to kill the pain. On the plus side, players still get to smoke weed about seven months a year, unless they have failed a test previously.

Also, in May 2019, the NFL appeared to take a step forward. Along with the NFLPA, the NFL agreed to mandate a mental health practitioner for each team in the league. The two bodies also decided to form a joint committee to study and assess alternative forms of pain management rather than relying on painkillers.

What Do the Players Think?

Understandably, current NFL players are choosing to remain quiet on the subject! Retired players, especially those living in ‘legal’ states, have no such qualms. Long is one of the dozens of ex-NFL players who admit using weed during their playing days.

Once again, Sports Illustrated had the scoop when Calvin Johnson spoke about his use of marijuana. Johnson retired at the age of 30 but may yet find himself in the Hall of Fame. He is in the medical cannabis business and provided an eye-opening account of what went on in locker rooms.

According to Johnson, you could get whatever you wanted. There was Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin, and all manner of opioids. He said his medicine of choice was marijuana.

Former New Orleans Saint, Kyle Turley, claimed that cannabis saved his life. He also said that the NFL could run a single study in training camp and change the entire landscape. What’s interesting is the sheer number of former NFL stars who are now involved in the weed industry in one way or another.

Ex-Patriots great, Rob Gronkowski, retired at the end of last season after winning yet another Super Bowl. He recently announced his intention to become a businessman and is a proud advocate for products containing CBD. According to ‘The Gronk,’ CBD helped relieve the pain suffered from a career of hurt.

Ricky Williams famously got banned for a season because he failed several drug tests, and is another cannapreneur. His former agent, Leigh Steinberg, said that weed helped Williams’ body recover while he was temporarily retired in 2004. Joe Montana and Terrell Davis are other high-profile ex-pros who are now involved in cannabis firms.

What’s Next for the NFL & Marijuana?

The NFL is contemplating changes to its existing marijuana policy which most ex-players believe makes no sense in its current form. The existing CBA lasts until the end of the 2020 season.

At that point, the league will negotiate a new deal with the players. It seems that the league wants the season extended to 18 games. As for a new weed deal, it is up to the players to make a strong case to allow the herb in the league as a painkiller.

Cannabis is a complex issue for the NFL, as it is for all organizations across the United States. As Congress has not removed the herb from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, it is tough for the league to create a policy for a federally illegal substance.

One option is to allow players to use weed according to state law. However, this ruling would result in free agents flocking to teams in states where using pot is legal.

A more sensible option is to remove marijuana from its list of banned drugs and not bother testing players for the herb. You often hear the terrifying tales of players crippled in pain, becoming addicted to opioids, and being unable to sleep. Therefore, it seems incredible that the NFL continues allowing its players to suffer. Something has to give, or a significant increase in early retirements seems inevitable.