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Do You Think NFL Players Should Be Able to Use Cannabis?: NFL Players Association Looks to Ease Penalties

The National Football League Players Association is hoping to amend the league’s rules regarding cannabis use by players.

Representatives from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPL) are preparing a proposal to amend the league’s drug policies, Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports. The proposal, according to union executive director DeMaurice Smith, will call on the league to ease punishments placed on players caught using marijuana.

As of now, the NFL prohibits marijuana use for personal or medical purposes. Players are regularly tested, and positive or missed tests result in fines and suspensions. The ban is set to last at least until the NFL’s labor agreement expires in 2020.

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

Former and current NFL athletes have been urging the league to reevaluate its cannabis use policy. Retired players Jake Plummer and Eugene Monroe have been working with academic researchers at John Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania to examine how cannabis could help players more safely manage their aches and pains.

Some medical experts are also advocating to use cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound extracted from cannabis, as a preventative measure against brain damage caused by concussions and the subsequent degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A 2015 study found 96 percent of NFL players to have CTE. Thirty former NFL players are currently participating in a separate study exploring cannabis’ efficacy for pain and concussion symptoms.

Medical Marijuana, Inc. portfolio company, KannalifeTM Sciences, holds a license to develop cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical treatments for CTE under the National Institutes of Health patent #6,630,507, “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”, and is conducting its own independent research into cannabis’ effects on concussion-related brain damage.

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As it stands now, players are currently allowed to use opioids and other prescription pain medications that carry a high risk of addiction and overdose. Despite the league’s ban, as many as 70 percent of NFL players smoke marijuana, according to former running back Ricky Williams.

An ESPN survey in November found that 61 percent of current players believe allowing marijuana use would allow them to manage pain without taking as many addictive painkiller medications. Loosening the league’s rules could allow players to explore and more comfortably opt for a safer treatment solution.

“… 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,” Smith said.

Ten NFL team owners recently interviewed by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said that they support additional study and discussion regarding the league’s stance on medical and recreational marijuana use. A majority said they support a “decriminalization” approach, making it more difficult for players to be suspended. A couple said they were open to removing marijuana related suspensions altogether and only issuing fines. Two responded that they were worried loosening the rules would send the wrong message about drug use.

A spokesman for the NFL has said that the league is listening to “science and medical experts” on the use of cannabis for pain management. The league has said in the past that it would consider revisiting its stance on marijuana if advised to do so by medical experts.

“The program is administered by jointly appointed independent medical advisors to the league and the NFLPA who are constantly reviewing and relying on the most current research and scientific data,” a league spokesman said in a written statement in November. “We continue to follow the advice of leading experts on treatment, pain management and other symptoms associated with concussions and other injuries. However, medical experts have not recommended making a change or revisiting our collectively-bargained policy and approach related to marijuana, and our position on its use remains consistent with the federal law and workplace policies across the country. If these medical experts change their view, then this is an area that we would explore.”

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The proposal needs to first be approved by the NFLPA Board of Directors before its negotiated with NFL officials.

“If our board approves the proposal, we’ll sit down with the league and we will make the proposal to [the league],” Smith said. “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.’”

Learn more about the research done on cannabis’ effects on pain and CTE by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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