From the outside looking in, college football players suffer the harshest drug testing for marijuana when it comes to the top sports leagues in the country. The NCAA considers having 5 ng/mL of cannabis in their urine a positive test for athletes. By comparison, the NFL dings players if they cross the 35 ng/mL threshold. But the collegiate sport is unlike any other because of which institutions actually hold power when it comes to handing out punishments..
While the NCAA is the governing body of college sports, player misconduct is handled at the individual school level. Meaning a player who fails a drug test for marijuana at Rutgers University might be punished differently—and given more chances—than a student-athlete in Alabama.
In 2016, Rutgers reduced their penalties for marijuana usage. In fact, it isn’t until the third positive test that a player will receive a game suspension. It takes up to five failed drug tests for the school to kick a player off the team. This stands in stark contrast to a several years ago, when most NCAA schools would boot players after just three failed tests.
Overall, drug positives have hovered around 1-2 percent. Overseeing all of it is the National Center for Drug Free Sport in Kansas City, Missouri. The NCAA outsources its drug testing to the center, which also works with the NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA and PGA.
“When the NCAA changed their sanction on marijuana, it seemed like everybody was at three strikes [before dismissal], then everybody kind of split out their marijuana sanctions to four, maybe five,” said Erika Kuhr, senior director for Drug Free Sport.
“I don’t know if there is anybody out there above five. But it doesn’t mean they’re not out there.”
While schools remain far from embracing marijuana for its medicinal properties, it has responded to our current cultural shift in attitude toward marijuana. One interesting nugget the NCAA stands vehemently on, however, is whether marijuana is performance-enhancing.
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The NCAA’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention tool kit includes an infographic discussing all the effects marijuana has on athletic performance, like how motor skills can be impaired, and so on. But one bullet clearly states: “Marijuana has NO performance-enhancing potential.”
In part, this explains why schools have backed off from harsh punishments for student athletes.