Major sports leagues scale down punishment for Marijuana

NFL players celebrating together the new rules about cannabis. Photo by Steve Jacobson on

Apr. 20, 2022, marks two years in which the NFL has stopped banning players for testing positive for Delta 9-THC carboxyl acid commonly found in cannabis.  

The policy change is becoming the new norm across all major leagues and collegiate institutions as there is wider availability of treatment and education on drug use. 

With the conclusion of the 2019 season, the National Football League Players Association and the National Football League decided on a new collective bargaining agreement for the next decade.

Within the new CBA was the new drug policy that the NFL will limit the testing period to only the first two weeks of training camp and increase the minimum for a positive test from 35 nanograms of THC to 150 nanograms.

The new policy also saves players from being suspended for a failed drug test, as the NFL wants to take a rehabilitation approach when dealing with players who test positive.

Any player that tests positive will be subject to review by a board of medical professionals that will prescribe clinical care and treatment.

Previously when a player tested positive the first time, it would result in a referral to an abuse program, and with a second positive test, players have two game checks withheld. 

The NCAA has also recently amended its drug policy; as of February, they have lifted their THC threshold from 35 nanograms to 150.

“Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from [the] membership on [better supporting and educating]student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views,”  Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA Chief Medical Officer, said.

Collegiate athletes who were suspended for half of a season due to a positive test are now given the opportunity, similar to the NFL, to follow management and educational plans provided by their respective institutions.

In the realm of basketball, the NBA has suspended marijuana testing for the current 2021-22 season, much to the player’s joy.

With the relaxation of weed testing, Commissioner Adam Silver wanted the public to know that just because there was not any testing that the use of marijuana should still be used responsibly.

“When we change our policy, we have to be careful because we’re clearly sending a message to young people,” Silver said. 

“Like with alcohol, you have to teach young people how to use a substance appropriately and responsibly, so it doesn’t overwhelm your life.”

Like the NBA, the MLB has removed marijuana from the list of banned substances, granting freedom for players to use during the season and having the necessary treatment and programs for players that test positive for other substances.

As treatment programs are incorporated into the major sports leagues, the NFL has funded $1 million in research to the University of Regina and UC San Diego to investigate cannabinoids and their effect on pain management and neuroprotection from concussions.

The results of this study and cannabis as a whole could lay the foundation for the NFL and all sports leagues as an alternative to traditional medical treatment.