Last month former National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner David Stern stated that he now supports cannabis reform in the NBA. Stern’s endorsement of NBA cannabis reform was met with a swift reply from the NBA that it would keep cannabis on its banned substances list. However, Stern’s statements did generate a significant amount of conversation in the NBA community and beyond, with much of the conversation being positive from a cannabis reform standpoint.
A number of retired players have joined 18 year veteran Clifford Robinson in coming out in support of cannabis reform in the NBA. Today an active player, Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, expressed support for medical cannabis reform in the NBA. Towns’ pro-cannabis comments came during an interview with ESPN, excerpts of which can be found below (interview questions are in bold):
If you’re commissioner Adam Silver and could make one change to the rules in the NBA, what would it be?
I agree with David Stern with marijuana. You don’t have to actually make it “Mary J” [or] “Half Baked.” You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better. That’s something that Adam Silver has to do. That’s out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily. I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us.
And again, you’re coming at this as a guy who has never smoked.
No, I’ve never smoked or drank a day in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. All my friends don’t drink or smoke. I’ve always believed the people you keep around you [represent] who you’ll become. I have no animosity or ill will or any belittlement to anyone who smokes or drinks. Everyone has their own hobbies and what they like to do and who they are. So I just personally have never done anything like that. I was just raised a little different like that. I never had anyone [around me] who wanted to do it … I’m a strong believer, I have a strong mind. So if I don’t want to do it no one can peer pressure me into doing it.
It takes a lot of courage to speak out about cannabis reform when a player is active due to the unfair stigma they will face. What Karl-Anthony Towns did this week is inspiring, and will hopefully encourage other active NBA players to come out in support of cannabis reform. Hopefully it also encourages athletes in other sports to do the same. Towns is joined by at least one other active NBA player in supporting medical cannabis reform in the league – Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin.
In an interview in 2014 Blake Griffin had the following to say about medical cannabis reform in the NBA (interview question in bold):
The NFL might let players use medical marijuana to treat pain. If you had a vote, would the NBA do the same?
It doesn’t really affect me, but so many guys would probably benefit from it and not take as many painkillers, which have worse long-term effects. So I would vote yes. I just think it makes sense.
As always, the Uncle Cliffy team feels the need to point out that while medical cannabis reform is a great thing, a full end to cannabis prohibition in professional sports is even better. A medical-only approach to cannabis in professional sports leaves open the door for selective enforcement, and does not address the issue of professional sports leagues perpetuating institutional racism via suspending players for cannabis arrests while they are away from their team. 8 states and Washington D.C. now allow cannabis for adult use (with more on the way), and considering how many professional sports teams are located in those states, the NBA and other leagues need to get with the times and get on the right side of history. Free the plant!
Back in March of this year Bleacher Report posted an article which described fears among National Football League (NFL) players that the Trump administration would crackdown on players that consume cannabis. The fears arose due to anti-cannabis comments made by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Mr. Spicer hinted at ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis laws, and Jeff Sessions stated the following at the time, per Politico:
“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Sessions said during an exchange with reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.”
“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
The Uncle Cliffy team pointed out at the time that while it’s possible that the federal government could target a pro athlete for personal cannabis use, such a move would be unprecedented, and was highly unlikely. We felt that it was much more likely that the cannabis comments and news coming out of the White House earlier this year were more rhetoric than anything. By making such comments the Trump administration, and likely sports league officials, knew that it will create a chilling effect that would possibly slow down reform efforts, or convince advocates to abandon their efforts altogether.
Jeff Sessions’ staunch opposition to cannabis reform was also cited by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) in its response to the newly found support for cannabis reform by former head of the NBA David Stern last month. Per NBA.com:
“I think its fair to say we have to be mindful that given the current administration and Sessions’ comments on his view, that it’s a gateway drug, it wouldn’t be prudent for any changes to be made until we know what the current DOJ has to say about this.” – Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the NBPA
NBA and NFL players have every right to feel however they want about cannabis reform in pro sports, but they should not let the scare tactics of cannabis opponents like Jeff Sessions be the sole reason to oppose meaningful reform. The Trump administration has yet to go after a professional athlete for cannabis consumption, and the Uncle Cliffy team feels that such a move is very unlikely. Sessions’ previous comments were just empty political rhetoric, proven by his flip flop yesterday when testifying before a Congressional committee, as covered by Forbes:
Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes,” Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.
Professional athletes need to focus on what is right, just, and compassionate, and not be distracted by the words of politicians. League officials can no longer hide behind the ‘cannabis consumption may result in federal prosecution’ scare tactic to keep players from standing up for what’s right. Cannabis prohibition has failed. That is true in professional sports just as it is true in society.
Cannabis prohibition has a disproportionate impact on racial minority communities, and league cannabis prohibitions perpetuate institutional racism. Every professional athlete should oppose such a policy. Suffering players should be allowed to use a safer, effective medicine like cannabis, no matter where they live. Only time will tell if the recent comments by Jeff Sessions will sway players and league officials, but it is the sincere hope of the Uncle Cliffy team that it proves to be the case sooner rather than later. Free the plant!
GOP Congressmen, with leading Cannabis advocacy firm The Liaison Group (TLG) and Public Affairs firm Gide, will hold a press conference to bring together a diverse set of patients who have all benefited from medical Cannabis to share their personal stories on Capitol Hill. This press event is presented in conjunction with broad bi-partisan legislative efforts to continue the protection of State-enacted, State-regulated medical Cannabis programs from federal interference.
“Support for medicinal Cannabis has become widely accepted across the country with 46 States and the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, allowing the medical use of the plant. However, at the Federal level, Cannabis continues to be a Schedule I substance—the most restrictive classification,” said Saphira Galoob, TLG Principal. “We are holding this press event to give patients who have benefited from medicinal Cannabis a platform to speak to Congress about why Federal Cannabis policies must be updated to respect States rights, protect patients and reflect modern scientific research that demonstrates how the Cannabis plant can effectively treat a variety of medical conditions.”
“It was important for us to bring together a diverse set of individuals to show that so many people today are benefiting from medical Cannabis—Veterans, athletes, children, as well as their parents. Many Members of Congress are taking positions on medical Cannabis policies without hearing the real-world stories of how the plant is transforming some of their constituents’ lives, which is why we wanted to bring these voices directly to Capitol Hill,” said Gide Principal, Arika Pierce.
During the press event, speakers will include:
• GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA) who are actively working in Congress to reform Federal Cannabis laws, including to remove research restrictions and to protect State-enacted medical Cannabis programs from federal interference.
• Former NFL star Kyle Turley whose eight-year NFL career and over 100 concussions caused him to become reliant on pain killers which contributed to his 20-year struggle with depression, anxiety, and rage. Kyle will share his experience with medical Cannabis and how it ultimately saved his life, and now allows him to live opioid-free.
• Former Navy SEAL Nick Etten who is the Founder and Executive Director of the Veterans Cannabis Project, an organization dedicated to improving US military Veterans’ quality of life through legal access to medical Cannabis.
• Nurse Holley Moseley who has over 14 years of nursing experience, specializing in pediatrics and clinical research. Her daughter suffered from daily seizures despite the use of anti-epileptic medications, special diets and an implantable device. It wasn’t until she began using high-CBD cannabis oil that she found relief. As a result, Holley has become a medical Cannabis advocate and was instrumental in passing the first cannabis legislation in the state of Florida, known as “The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014”.
Other speakers will include parents of children who have effectively used Cannabis to treat illnesses such as epilepsy and chronic pain, as well as other Republican Congressional Members who support efforts to advance Federal Cannabis policies that respect the robust and sophisticated State Cannabis programs that have been enacted throughout the country.
Details for the press conference are as follows:
A press conference calling on Congress to recognize the modern medical developments of Cannabis through first-hand patient stories from the many different faces that benefit from medicinal Cannabis—children, parents, Veterans, and athletes.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017, at 11.00 a.m. ET
Rayburn House Office Building (Gold Room), Room 2168
Source: EIN Presswire
Clifford Robinson is a proud resident of Portland, Oregon. Cliff played for the Portland Trail Blazers for 8 seasons, having been named an NBA All-Star and NBA Sixth Man of the Year while playing with the Blazers. Robinson ranks in the top ten in several Blazer career statistical categories. Portland is home to part of Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, which is the district represented by Congressman Earl Blumenauer.
The Uncle Cliffy team has covered Congressman Blumenauer’s pro-cannabis efforts in the past. In mid-October Blumenauer testified in a Congressional hearing in support of cannabis as a viable solution to combat the opioid epidemic. Congressman Blumenauer has been a champion of cannabis reform in the political world for a very long time, having led the effort in Oregon’s Legislature in 1973 to successfully decriminalize cannabis possession. The successful effort made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize cannabis.
Congressman Blumenauer has either sponsored, co-sponsored, or strongly supported every pro-cannabis reform measure that has been introduced in Congress since he became a United States Representative in 1996. Blumenauer was recently interviewed by TMZ, and during the interview Earl Blumenauer had something to say specifically about sports cannabis reform. Per TMZ:
“It’s much less damaging than the opiods, the painkillers, the shots, the pills … and it’s time professional sports stops punishing them but works with them.”
Congressman Blumenauer says 2/3 Americans have legal access to medical marijuana — so to ban NBA and NFL players is basically treating them like “second class citizens.”
Earl Blumenauer’s endorsement of ending cannabis prohibition in professional sports is a big deal. As far as the Uncle Cliffy team is aware, he is the first member of Congress to specifically express support for cannabis reform in professional sports. Hopefully his support encourages other members of Congress to do the same, and also hopefully it is an endorsement that league officials in the NBA and NFL see and are swayed by. If fans, players (current and retired), members of sports media, and members of Congress all keep calling on the leagues to end cannabis prohibition, they will have to listen and get on the right side of history.
Last week ex-commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) David Stern endorsed cannabis reform in the NBA. Stern’s statements generated a significant amount of conversation around the league, with members of the NBA community making comments for and against the endorsement. Ultimately the audience that needed to embrace David Stern’s words the most was NBA leadership, but it appears that Stern’s words did not have the intended effect, at least not right now. The NBA responded to Stern’s comments via an article posted by USA Today:
“While (current NBA) commissioner (Adam) Silver has said that we are interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana, our position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes.” – NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass
The league’s response was then followed by a response from the National Basketball Player’s Association, as covered by NBA.com:
“I think its fair to say we have to be mindful that given the current administration and Sessions’ comments on his view, that it’s a gateway drug, it wouldn’t be prudent for any changes to be made until we know what the current DOJ has to say about this,” NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said Sunday. “The other sports that aren’t testing for marijuana like we are, I don’t know if they’re paying attention to today’s DOJ. I want us to be aware of what the political agenda looks like.”
The NBA’s response is obviously completely out of touch, as it has been for a number of years. Oregon, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for adult use, all of which are home to one or more NBA teams. Legalization is on the way next year in Canada, which will add the home of the Toronto Raptors to the list. States like Michigan (home of the Pistons) may legalize cannabis in 2018. Every state in America has passed at least CBD-specific cannabis reform measures except for Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Support for legalization in American society is at an all-time high. So why does the NBA continue to cling to such an unpopular, failed policy?
Members of the National Basketball Players Association need to recognize that this is an important issue for players’ health, and that it’s also important from a social justice standpoint. Cannabis prohibition is a racist public policy, as proven by abundant statistical data. If an African American NBA player is almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis while away from their team compared to Caucasian players, and the NBA suspends players for getting arrested for cannabis (via Article 35 of the NBA Constitution), African American players are then also four times more likely to be punished by the NBA for a cannabis arrest compared to Caucasian players. That’s a perpetuation of institutional racism that should not be tolerated by NBA players (or league officials for that matter).
NBA players need to lead the charge on calling for the league to end cannabis prohibition. NBA officials need to get on the right side of history and completely remove cannabis from the league’s banned substances list and refrain from taking actions against players that are accused/convicted of cannabis-only offenses. Exemptions for medical cannabis will not go far enough, as it will not fully address the harmful social injustice component of the NBA’s current cannabis policy. Players that live in states that do not have a medical cannabis program will still be targeted by the NBA under a medical-only policy. Also, some players may still become the victims of institutional racism simply because they were caught with a personal amount of a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol.
The National Basketball League’s (NBA) banned substances policy has evolved over the years. NBA drug testing policies were born decades ago out of a reaction to a public perception that NBA players had a cocaine use problem. At the same time that the NBA cocaine abuse perception issue was occurring, American society was in the middle of the ramping up of the War on Drugs. Professional sports, along with lawmakers across America, started to institute polices that took a zero tolerance approach towards many substances, cannabis included.
Those cannabis prohibitionist policies continue into today. The only major sports league in America that does not include cannabis on its list of banned substances is the National Hockey League. A national conversation has been occurring recently regarding cannabis reform in professional sports, with retired professional athletes like 18 year NBA veteran Clifford Robinson leading the charge on the reform side. Cannabis prohibition has never worked in professional sports. That was true when cannabis was first prohibited by professional sports leagues, and it’s still true now.
Retired ex-NBA commissioner David Stern made headlines recently when he announced that he now supports cannabis reform in the NBA. This of course is the same David Stern that championed a league cannabis prohibition policy that harmed a number of NBA players (and their families) over years while Stern was the head of the NBA. Stern claims that he had a change of heart because cannabis is now legal in multiple states for recreational and/or medical use. Stern’s endorsement of cannabis reform in the NBA was not coupled with an apology to the players that were suspended during his tenure overseeing the league’s cannabis prohibition policy. It’s worth noting that cannabis has been legal in some form for medical use at the state level in America since 1996 (California), and for adult use since 2012 (Colorado), and that David Stern served as the head of the NBA from 1984 to 2014.
A number of current and retired members of the NBA community have commented on David Stern’s recent statements, including Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. Below are excerpts of an article posted by Detroit Free Press which detail what Stan Van Gundy had to say:
“I think the NBA is going to be in a tough spot down the road – not just medical – but as more states legalize marijuana even for recreational use,” Van Gundy said after Friday’s practice at the Galen Center on the USC campus.
“That doesn’t mean you have to allow it. There’s still some businesses who test for it, but you let people be impaired by alcohol because it’s legal, how are you going to draw that distinction with marijuana in states that it’s legal?
“To me, that’s a tough one.”
The Uncle Cliffy team believes that the NBA is already in a tough spot, and has been since the NBA first started prohibiting players from using cannabis while simultaneously embracing alcohol. Cannabis is 114 times safer than alcohol. Prohibiting cannabis while at the same time embracing alcohol is extremely hypocritical. The NBA’s cannabis policy should be driven by science and compassion, and not the harmful, hypcritical political views of a handful of league officials.
Cannabis reform in the NBA is not as complex an issue as league officials and cannabis opponents are trying to make it out to be. What benefit does cannabis prohibition provide to the NBA? David Stern claimed that one of the reasons the NBA banned cannabis in the first place was that players were coming to league officials and complaining that other players were showing up to games under the influence of cannabis. If that is indeed true, then why prohibit all cannabis consumption by NBA players at all times, with zero exceptions? Why not institute a less-sweeping (and less harmful) policy that prohibits players from showing up to work under the influence of cannabis?
Cannabis can stay in a person’s system for up to 100 days. Just because an NBA player has cannabis in his system does not mean that he was impaired at the time of practice or competition. For that matter, just because an NBA drug test shows that a player has cannabis in his system does not mean that the player personally consumed cannabis. A study from 2015 found that someone who was simply around other people consuming cannabis could test as high as 50 ng/mL, which is more than three times the THC metabolite threshold that the NBA currently has in place.
The NBA needs to balance whatever justification it has for keeping cannabis prohibition in place (valid justifications so far being elusive) against the harms that cannabis prohibition has had on so many players. If it has been determined that an NBA player consumed alcohol in a private setting 100 days ago without any incidents, should that player be suspended? Of course not. So why is it happening with cannabis, especially considering that cannabis is so much safer? This of course doesn’t even touch on the fact that cannabis can provide a number of wellness benefits to players, which is further justification for ending cannabis prohibition in the NBA.
Ending cannabis prohibition in professional sports leagues should not be a tough decision. Cannabis prohibition has failed, and it’s time that leagues took a more sensible approach to cannabis use by players. Studies show that such a move would be welcomed by a strong majority of sports fans. The momentum for cannabis reform in the NBA and other professional sports leagues continues to pick up steam, and that is a great thing. It’s great for players who should no longer have their careers ruined because of cannabis prohibition, for the affected players’ families, and ultimately for the professional sports leagues themselves who should want their athletes competing on the court or field, and not serving a suspension for a beneficial plant that is safer than alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
News broke earlier this week that ex-NBA commissioner David Stern now supports ending cannabis prohibition in the National Basketball League (NBA). While his comments were a welcomed change from the stance he took while he was the head of the NBA, it was disheartening that the endorsement of NBA cannabis reform from David Stern wasn’t coupled with an apology for supporting failed NBA cannabis prohibition for so long. The Uncle Cliffy team is hopeful that it will happen in the near future.
Stern’s endorsement of cannabis reform in the NBA generated a lot of comments from current and former members of the NBA, including current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr previously stated that he had used cannabis while recovering from a recent back surgery. At the same time that he confessed to having used cannabis to deal with the surgery-related pain, he also stated that he hoped that the NBA would soften its stance on cannabis use among NBA players.
Kerr repeated his support for cannabis reform this week in response to questions about David Stern’s new cannabis revelations. When asked if he thought that the NBA would eventually allow cannabis use by players for medical purposes Kerr answered with, “I think it’ll happen.” Kerr went on to express concerns related to fan perceptions regarding cannabis reform in the NBA. Per The Mercury News:
The tricky part in the institution of the drug, according to Kerr, will be the perception of the drug by the league’s fanbase. However, Kerr admits there’s one thing that may overrule the opinions of the fans.
“The perception of the fans is important,” said Kerr. “In terms of selling our business, but the health of the players should be the most important thing.”
Fortunately for Steve Kerr, and for the health and wellness of NBA players, a growing body of polling shows a significant level of support for cannabis reform from sports fans. Marist College, in conjunction with Yahoo, conducted a poll in which sports fans were asked the following question – ‘Would you have more or less respect for your favorite sports athlete if you learned they used marijuana in their personal life? If it makes no difference please say so.’
A substantial 68% of poll participants expressed that if their favorite sports athlete consumed cannabis that it ‘makes no difference’ to the level of respect that they have for the athlete. An additional 3% stated that they would have more respect. Only 28% of poll respondents stated that they would have less respect for an athlete that consumes cannabis.
A combined 71% of poll participants would have equal or more respect for a professional athlete (including NBA athletes) if they found out that they consumed cannabis, and not just for medical purposes. That’s significantly more than the support for national legalization (64%) by American voters, and the same as the level of support for medical cannabis legalization in the NFL among its players (also 71%).
Another poll, conducted by PRRI, found that, “A majority (54%) of the public believe professional athletes should not be prohibited from using marijuana if they live in a state where it is legal.” Currently 8 states and Washington D.C. allow cannabis for adult use, and 29 states allow cannabis for medical use. Another 17 states allow at least the use of CBD-specific cannabis products for certain conditions. Only four states in America currently have full cannabis prohibition in place – Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas, none of which have NBA teams. In the case of the Toronto Raptors, they are located in a country that has not only legalized cannabis for medical use, full legalization is on the way in mid 2018.
Polling has even shown overwhelming support for cannabis reform in professional sports leagues among sports media members. A poll conducted by The Big Lead looked specifically at the level of support for cannabis reform among sports media members. An astounding 76.5% of poll participants stated that cannabis prohibition should end. Fan perception is a valid concern for professional sports leagues like the NBA that have an image and reputation to maintain. But as polling clearly shows, there is nothing to worry about. Hopefully this data helps members of the NBA like Steve Kerr embrace cannabis reform even more. Free the plant!
image via Wikimedia
The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) current cannabis policy is extremely strict, as proven by the 15 ng/mL THC metabolite threshold for player drug testing. That threshold is the lowest out of all of the major professional sports leagues, with the exception of the National Hockey League, which does not include cannabis on its list of banned substances. To put the NBA’s threshold into perspective, Olympic athletes are held to a threshold that is ten times greater than what NBA athletes are held to.
Clifford Robinson was the victim of the league’s harmful cannabis policy on multiple occasions, having been suspended for cannabis use no less than three times during his career, including a 5 game suspension during the playoffs. Robinson knows first hand that the NBA has been on the wrong side of history for a long time, which is why he has been leading the effort to bring reform to the NBA. As it stands right now, the NBA has no current plans to reform its harmful cannabis policy.
That could change with news breaking today that retired NBA commissioner David Stern now supports taking cannabis off the NBA’s list of banned substances. Per excerpts from an article posted by Sports Illustrated:
“I’m now at the point where, personally, I think [marijuana] probably should be removed from the ban list,” Stern said. “I think there is universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal.”
“It’s a completely different perception,” Stern added. “I think we have to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement and let you do what is legal in your state. If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I think you should be allowed to do what’s legal in your state.”
David Stern served as head of the NBA from 1984-2014, which includes the entire 18 year period in which Clifford Robinson played in the league. David Stern’s endorsement of cannabis reform in the NBA is a great thing, and should be celebrated, but it begs the question, ‘why now and not sooner?’ After all, medical cannabis has been legal at the state level since 1996 when California votes approved medical cannabis legalization. Since that time a number of states have followed suit. Cannabis became legal for adult use in Colorado (home of the Denver Nuggets) in 2012. If David Stern’s reasoning is that players should be able to do what’s legal in their state, then why didn’t that reasoning apply previously when Stern was in a position to actually do something about it? Why is he only now getting on the right side of history?
The Uncle Cliffy team is definitely happy to see David Stern endorse cannabis reform in the NBA, but it’s bittersweet given the fact that so many players were harmed by the NBA’s cannabis prohibition policy during Mr. Stern’s tenure, including and especially Clifford Robinson. Players like Cliff had to endure a tremendous amount of stigma because they were penalized by the NBA for consuming cannabis, and many continue to deal with that stigma still to this day. The opportunities to coach, make official league appearances, and be hired in league media roles that non-sanctioned players are regularly presented with are not offered to NBA players that have been branded with the ‘cannabis scarlet letter.’ Why is that?
It is yet to be seen what effect David Stern’s endorsement will have on NBA league policy, and that of other leagues’ cannabis policies. The National Football league is in the midst of an ongoing conversation about cannabis reform, and the endorsement of a retired commissioner from another major league could possibly carry some weight in those conversations. All professional sports league policies, including the NBA’s, need to be based on science and compassion for players, and not on the harmful political views of a handful of league officials.
League policies need to go farther than just allowing medical use by players in states that have legalized medical cannabis. Professional sports leagues need to completely end cannabis prohibition, including the practice of punishing players for cannabis arrests that take place away from the team. Anything less than that will likely lead to selective enforcement, and in many cases, the perpetuation of institutional racism. Kudos to David Stern for finally getting on the right side of history, albeit after the fact. Hopefully this helps increase the momentum for freeing the plant in the NBA and beyond.
Players from the National Football League (NFL) have been leading a call for criminal justice reform in America. The protests and calls for reform have been widely publicized, and don’t appear to be ending any time soon. A national conversation has been underway as a result, and the conversation can be quite intense at times. However, it does appear to be having an effect on the NFL. Yesterday the NFL endorsed a federal criminal justice reform bill, which is a significant development in the overall conversation, and a fairly unprecedented move. Per The Washington Post:
The NFL’s spokesman said on Monday that the league has decided to endorse a bipartisan bill to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, eliminate “three-strike” provisions that require life sentences and give judges more latitude to reduce sentences for certain low-level crimes.
“We felt that this was an issue over the last months, as we have continued to work with our players on issues of equality and on issues of criminal justice reform, that was surfaced for us, and we thought it was appropriate to lend our support to it,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday during a conference call with reporters.
The Uncle Cliffy team commends the NFL on its endorsement. Criminal justice reform is definitely needed in this country, and it’s something that our team definitely supports. But, the Uncle Cliffy team feels that the endorsement does not go far enough, and is somewhat hypocritical given the NFL’s current cannabis policy. The NFL prohibits cannabis consumption by players, with zero exceptions. Any player who is caught with THC metabolites in their system above a threshold of 35 ng/mL is severely punished. Players like Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson have had to endure long suspensions for failing drug tests as a result of cannabis use.
To make matters even worse, the NFL perpetuates institutional racism by penalizing players who are caught with cannabis away from their teams. In America, African Americans are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis compared to Caucasians, despite usage rates being relatively the same among the two races. Some areas of America have even greater racial arrest disparities, with parts of Missouri experiencing cannabis arrest rates for African Americans at 18 times the rate of Caucasians. If an African American NFL player is 18 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis off the field, and the NFL penalizes players for cannabis arrests, an African American player is therefore 18 times as likely to be penalized by the NFL for cannabis compared to Caucasian NFL players. That perpetuation of institutional racism is unacceptable.
If the NFL truly supports criminal justice reform it should start by updating its own cannabis policy to ensure that its minority players are no longer disproportionately impacted by the league’s cannabis prohibition policy. Anything short of that and the NFL’s endorsement of the federal bill is hypocritical and insincere. The NFL needs to have compassion for its players, and allow them to use a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. Free the plant!
Seantrel Henderson is an offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL). The NFL suspended Seantrel for 10 games during Week 12 of last season due to a failed drug test. Seantrel Henderson was using medical cannabis to treat pain related to Crohn’s disease and two intestinal surgeries, and as a result, tested positive for THC metabolites. The NFL cannabis testing threshold is 35 ng/mL, which is over four times as stringent as the standard that Olympic athletes are held to (150 ng/mL).
Pharmaceutical painkillers are not an option for Mr. Henderson because of his multiple intestinal surgeries. Cannabis seems to be the only thing that works. Yet, despite the clear medical need for consuming cannabis, Seantrel Henderson was suspended for 10 games. The NFL’s drug testing policy provides for zero exceptions for cannabis use, even when the use occurs in a state where it’s legal, and even when the player has been recommended cannabis by a medical doctor. Seantrel previously served a four game suspension for the same reason (cannabis use).
Fortunately for Seantrel Henderson, he has been reinstated by the Buffalo Bills after having served his suspension, effective earlier today. Per Buffalo Rumblings:
The Buffalo Billshave activated offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, who was eligible to return to the Bills today having now completed his 10-game suspension that dates back to last season. The Bills had a deadline of 4 p.m. Eastern to make the decision regarding Henderson.
According to the previously cited Buffalo Rumblings article, Henderson stated that he hasn’t had any issues with Crohn’s disease’s recently, which is a great thing. However, it begs the question, ‘what happens if/when Henderson experiences pain from his disease?’ Seantrel Henderson will be faced with the choice of consuming cannabis for relief and then face likely disciplinary action, or go without his medicine and (needlessly) endure significant pain, or step away from the job and sport that he obviously loves. All of those options are unacceptable.
Regardless if Seantrel’s condition flares up or not, what is happening to him is inhumane. No one should be required to go without a proven medicine, especially when the motivation preventing the medicine’s use is based on political beliefs, not science. The NFL’s cannabis policy is harmful. Seantrel Henderson’s case is an unfortunate example of that. Cannabis is 114 times safer than alcohol, yet players are prohibited from using cannabis while the NFL simultaneously embraces alcohol. That is extremely hypocritical. The NFL needs to have some compassion for its players and fix its failed, harmful cannabis policy.
The Uncle Cliffy team, which is comprised of some of the biggest Buffalo Bills fans on this planet, wants to congratulate Seantrel Henderson on getting back on the field. Clearly he never should have been taken off the field in the first place. Hopefully he can put this matter behind him as much as possible, which will be difficult given his medical need for cannabis. The Uncle Cliffy team will continue to call on the NFL to end cannabis prohibition and let players make the safer choice until all players like Seantrel Henderson can consume cannabis without repercussions. Good luck Seantrel, go Bills!
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