Professional sports are a staple to the fabric of the United States and taken seriously by many citizens. Popular opinion has dictated that professional athletes that use drugs – performance enhancing or otherwise – are unfit to play their sport and must suffer consequences as a result. Whether through a suspension, fine, or a combination of both, athletes must pay for their drug use. In terms of marijuana, professional sports leagues for basketball, baseball, hockey and football all differ in regulations. But with its increased acceptance, particularly for medicinal use, it may be time to rethink the rules in place for smoking professional athletes in America’s biggest sports associations.
Rules for players in the NBA mandate four drug screens given at random throughout the season. Players are not screened during the off-season.
MLB athletes are no strangers to random drug testing, especially after the rise in steroid use that is still heavily monitored today. However, players are largely not screened for marijuana unless there is probable cause to suspect drug use is occurring. Short of being caught with pot-related paraphernalia in their bat bag during spring training, this fairly loose protocol proves this league isn’t overly stringent with their regulations on marijuana.
NHL players are not tested for marijuana as a standard rule. During the season, one-third of players are randomly selected to receive a drug panel test. This test penalizes players who screen positive for marijuana. But some players who test positive for marijuana may be referred to a substance treatment program, depending on the case.
The NFL has its own substance-abuse program in place. Penalties are strict for players who test positive for a wide array of drugs, including cannabis. For players who are not in this program, a mandatory single drug screening is conducted between April and August of each year. Though this screening may not seem like much of an intrusion, it can seriously impact an athlete’s salary, playing time, or their career as a whole. Even with the high number of injuries sustained due to the brutal nature of the game, the NFL continues to ban marijuana despite its proven medicinal capabilities.
Marijuana is not only an effective pain reliever but is considered to be much safer than opioid prescription pain relievers. Prescribed opioid painkillers in large volumes can cause liver damage and even lead to substance abuse or addiction. This puts injured athletes at a huge disadvantage, as it limits their safe treatment options.
Given the risks involved in playing sports, it seems unjust to condone pain management through marijuana use. As more evidence is revealed about MMJ benefits, league commissioners may adjust their thinking about smoking professional athletes. A simple adjustment of policies could allow players to manage their sports-related injuries through the discretion of a medical professional. By doing this, star athletes can continue to perform to the best of their ability while remaining in good standing with their designated league. Unfortunately, athletes will have to continue abiding by the current policies and steer clear of this viable treatment option until revisions are made. Will we see measures to end mandatory drug screening for marijuana in professional sports leagues like the NFL in 2017? Only time will tell.
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