According to reports, the league and its players have agreed in principle to liberalize the NFL’s marijuana policy, which for years has existed somewhere between “Reefer Madness” and a 1980s winners-don’t-do-drugs public service announcement. Under the new rules, players still will be screened and punished for using marijuana, which remains a designated “substance of abuse,” akin to cocaine. However, pot-induced suspensions and banishments will require a higher number of failed tests than other substances, and the threshold for a positive marijuana test—how much of the drug needs to be in a player’s urine to trigger a red flag—will more than double, though remain lower than thresholds used by Major League Baseball and the World Anti-Doping Association.
It’s a small win for common sense. The NFL’s War on Weed—a struggle that famously cost former All-Pro running back Ricky Williams a season-long suspension and caused top talents like Randy Moss and Tyrann Mathieu to slip in the league’s annual player draft—is increasingly out of step with both medical science and the culture at large. By relaxing its marijuana policy, the NFL is better aligning itself with contemporary America. It's also lessening the odds of repeating an embarrassing summer that saw the public ridicule the league for handing Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon a longer suspension for multiple failed pot tests (an entire season) than the one former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice initially received for coldcocking then-fiancé Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator (two games).
All of that said, if the NFL truly wanted to be progressive—or just plain smart—it would be better off ending its marijuana prohibition entirely. Just Say Yes? An enthusiastic embrace of weed to rival the sports world’s longstanding love affair with alcohol? That might be premature. But a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell attitude coupled with the careful adoption of medical marijuana? That would be better for the league’s public image, and better for the health of the athletes who make professional football possible.
In general, sports organizations adopt and enforce drug bans for three intertwined reasons: (a) the substance in question acts as a performance-enhancer, giving users an unfair on-field advantage; (b) it unduly threatens athlete health and well-being, via dangerous side effects or addiction; (c) use and abuse unduly threatens an organization’s bottom line, via negative fan perception. At first glance, marijuana arguably checks at least two of those boxes. It’s largely illegal. It leaves users stoned. Weigh all of the available evidence, however, and a much stronger case can be made that pot checks none of those boxes—and that by continuing to crack down on its use, the NFL is only hurting itself.
Read more at TheAtlantic.com
Related Story: 3 things to know about the NFL's new drug policy