It seems like there have been more suspensions for marijuana use in the NFL lately. The league handed out two suspensions over the past week and a half from one incident.
When they were teammates with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, running back Le’Veon Bell and now Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount were arrested for marijuana possession. The league recently suspended Bell three games and Blount one game for their actions.
The suspension of Bell is a little more severe because he was the one that was driving the car and he also required a trip to the hospital. That easily could have turned into a tragic situation, as it can whenever someone is driving under the influence.
Most players are tested at least once per season for the presence of illegal drugs including marijuana, amphetamines, opiates and other illegal drugs. These tests are different from the steroid testing that occurs throughout the season. Many of the marijuana drug tests occur outside of the season, from late April to early August, so it is quite possible that players are using during the season.
With every passing election, more and more states are decriminalizing marijuana and it’s time for the NFL to look into reducing their punishments. There can still be a punishment for DUI just like there is for alcohol, but if someone fails a drug test for marijuana what will the league do? Marijuana isn’t a performance enhancing drug, so it is unlikely that the league will be able to tie that into the list of substances that are banned.
In 2014, the league altered their marijuana policy allowing for players to have 35 nanograms of THC in their drug test sample. This was an increase from a mere 15 nanograms that it used to be. Compared to some other sports, the MLB’s cutoff point is at 50 nanograms and the Olympic committee draws the line at 150 nanograms. The problem with marijuana is that there are different varieties of the plant which will have more THC and testing for it is not as easy as testing someone’s blood alcohol level. There are also a number of factors including body size and fat content that can skew the test results.
Many players who have admitted to using marijuana say it helps them recover from injury, especially concussions, as it helps with some of the headaches. People in the past have chosen marijuana over the sport, most notably Ricky Williams who stepped away from the game for a year in 2004. When he returned, he continued to face problems and was suspended for the entire 2006 season.
The NFL will soon be at a crossroads, as more and more states are decriminalizing marijuana. Luckily for the league, they won’t have to cross that bridge for another couple of years. Marijuana is still only legal in three states for recreational use and 23 states, plus the District of Colombia, for medical use. The times seem to be changing and the NFL cannot afford to sit back and watch it pass them by, especially if it is helping players cope with some of the injuries they sustain.