NFL Cannabis Policy Will Change Under New CBA

The global coronavirus pandemic striking countries around the globe can make all other news seem far less important. Though as the world attempts to grapple with its new reality, focusing attention on more positive stories can be a helpful first step towards recovery. One story that would otherwise have dominated headlines in a different time was the NFL and NFL Players Association voting to pass a new collective bargaining agreement. More important than the agreement itself is how it will shape NFL cannabis policy for the foreseeable future. Under the new CBA, the NFL will severely reduce the potential punishments for a positive cannabis test.

Change That Wasn’t Entirely Unexpected

The NFL has had arguably the most draconian cannabis policies of the major American professional sports. Before CBA negotiations began in earnest it was already assumed by many that there was a potential change in the league’s policy on the horizon. Too many players had their careers altered or completely derailed because they tested positive for the league not to review its policies. Even well-known Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the media prior to an agreement on the new CBA, “I think that [we can] expect an adjustment [in the] present way that marijuana is being thought about.”

Jones’ comments were made after Major League Baseball drastically changed its drug policy in response to the opioid overdose death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. The MLB removed cannabis from its banned substances list and established provisions to get players help should they face a drug addiction problem. After the MLB shifted its drug policy, the NFL stood out even more as an organization with a severely restrictive and punitive set of rules.

Understanding the New NFL Cannabis Policy

What the new CBA allows for is not the complete elimination of cannabis testing and the potential for suspension but something close. First, the new policy would reduce the NFL’s cannabis testing window from nearly four-months to only two weeks. This means that players would only be tested for cannabis over a yet to be determined two week span. During the other 50 weeks of the year players would be exempt from cannabis testing altogether.

More importantly, the threshold for suspension would be greatly increased. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports that under the NFL’s new cannabis policy, a suspension would be levied, “only in the event of extreme and repeated disregard of the policy.”

Player Focused Policy

Until this point, the NFL’s drug policy has had the goal of protecting the league’s image. Sadly, it has in fact done the exact opposite. The NFL sowed mistrust among its players for decades by suspending them for the use of cannabis. Many of those players were or are using cannabis to relieve some of the chronic pain and traumatic injuries caused by playing the game of football at the highest level. The league, having already been forced to pay out more than $750,000,000 in settlements from a class-action concussion lawsuit should allow its players to seek healthier and safer alternatives to dangerous and addictive opioid painkillers. The NFL’s new cannabis policy should be the first step in doing so, however the league must continue to work with its players to form a drug policy that does not overly punish them while still protecting their health and well-being.


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