Medical Marijuana & the NFL Substance Abuse Policy

medical marijuanaMedical marijuana use in the NFL

Each NFL offseason, various storylines surface. This year, of course, Deflategate continues to be a topic of conversation. However, another, more unique, plot has emerged: medical marijuana use. 

Player pushes for medical marijuana acceptance 

Eugene Monroe, an offensive tackle and former member of the Baltimore Ravens, began pushing the league to look into allowing medical marijuana use this offseason. The football player believes the drug is safer than the pain killers the NFL currently gives athletes to deal with concussions and other injuries. He recently tweeted a link to his website, which contains more information on his campaign. 

In fact, Monroe has gone as far as to donate about $80,000 to to CW Botanical and Realm of Caring‘s campaign, “When The Bright Lights Fade,” to fund research on medical marijuana use to treat brain injuries, according to his website. Despite Monroe’s assertions that the league should look into allowing medical marijuana use, the drug is still banned by the NFL, and for that matter, federal law as well. 

Some experts, including Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk, have suggested the league will never officially allow marijuana use. The way the drug testing schedule is set up right now seems beneficial for the league, the players and the NFL players’ association. Changing that delicate balance could end up being too difficult. 

The three-phase intervention program

The NFL’s substance abuse policy prohibits the use of marijuana and a number of other controlled substances. If players are caught once, their infractions remain confidential, according to SB Nation. These individuals enter three-stage intervention programs. The phases are:

  1. The initial step is evaluation and treatment plan development. Here, players agree to provide medical professionals with information on their progress and submit to regular drug tests. This stage can last up to 90 days. If completed without incident, the player can finish the intervention program after this phase.
  2. If there are issues during the first stage, the athlete will move on to the second component of the program. This phase lasts two full seasons and involves a similar treatment plan. Players who break the rules during the second stage may be suspended up to four games. Players who make it through this phase of the program successfully move back to stage one if they violate the substance abuse policy again later on. 
  3. The final stage is for athletes who could not complete the first two successfully. The treatment component of this portion of the program is similar to the other two. However, the consequences for a violation increase. For most infractions, players are suspended for a year. Marijuana use during this phase results in a 10-month suspension. Stage three offenders remain in this step of the program for the rest of their careers or until a medical professional discharges them. 

If Florio is right, chances are that policy won’t change much for marijuana users or anyone else. If you’re interested in learning more about the league’s drug policy and punishments, speak with a sports law attorney. 

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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