Rumors have become reports, as the National Football League is prepared to make concessions around its substance abuse policy in its next Collective Bargaining Agreement with players, according to NBC’s ProFootballTalk. Whispers of the NFL loosening its regulations on players using cannabis stretch back as far as two years ago, when former football player Eben Britton told The Fresh Toast his belief the league would use cannabis as a “bargaining chip” in CBA negotiations.
PFT’s Mike Florio reported that it remains undecided to what degree the NFL would allow players to use cannabis. He didn’t rule out a “complete abandonment” of any cannabis regulation whatsoever, leaving players to their own discretion regarding marijuana usage. The biggest concern regards players in states where cannabis remains federally illegal, and how does the league respond if they received marijuana possession charges.
“A delicate balance may be required,” Florio writes. “It the law of the land becomes ‘smoke at will as long as you’re in a weed-legal state,’ plenty of free agents will flock to teams in states where it’s legal. So maybe the best approach would be to simply dump marijuana from the list of banned recreational drugs, and move on.”
Part of the league’s leniency involves the changing culture around cannabis. The plant’s essentially mainstream now. Virtually every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has backed federal marijuana legalization and been applauded for doing so. Quietly removing marijuana from the NFL’s banned substances list likely won’t result in serious backlash from fans. We also know owners like Jerry Jones don’t care anymore, as the Dallas Cowboys owner said the NFL should “drop its prohibition on marijuana use” two years ago.
You might be wondering why if the NFL doesn’t care anymore about cannabis, why not just drop it now? Well, as Britton mentioned, the owners don’t want to give up the “bargaining chip” they have. Sadly, giving players access to medical marijuana that could provide pain relief from addictive opioids and could possibly alleviate concussion symptoms isn’t enough. This is a business decision as much as anything.
The problem is that the NFL can’t start abandoning its rights without a concession from the NFL Players Association, and the NFLPA will make no concessions when it comes to a once-per-year marijuana testing procedure that most players are able to navigate successfully. Thus, the best way to back off would be to pitch the cannabis issue into the broader stew of back-and-forthing that will happen in connection with full-blown CBA discussions.
No matter what, we’re sure cannabis will be a point of discussion in the upcoming CBA negotiations. Until then, NFL players will have to continue pretending like they don’t already use cannabis.