nfl players association marijuana cannabis nflpa

In January the Uncle Cliffy team posted an article highlighting an announcement by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) that it would be proposing a ‘less punitive’ NFL cannabis policy. Details of exactly what that would look like have yet to surface. Late yesterday the National Football League (NFL) expressed an interest in working with the NFLPA to explore the idea of allowing medical cannabis use for pain management. Per the Washington Post:

The NFL has written to the NFL Players Association offering to work in tandem to study the potential use of marijuana as a pain management tool for players, according to people familiar with the situation.

It is the clearest indication to this point that the league may be willing to work cooperatively with the union toward such marijuana use, which is currently banned by the sport.

The NFLPA is conducting its own study and, according to those familiar with the deliberations, is yet to respond to the NFL’s offer to cooperate on marijuana-related research.

This is a big departure from previous comments made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In April Mr. Goodell expressed a belief that cannabis has no medical value. That claim is of course false, which the Uncle Cliffy team was quick to point out.

“Commissioner Goodell’s comments aren’t just scientifically inaccurate, they are harmful to players.” Cliff Robinson said at the time of Roger Goodell’s anti-cannabis comments. “By denying cannabis’ medical value, Mr. Goodell negatively impacts the important conversation regarding medical cannabis and players in the NFL. Cannabis can help players that are battling brain injuries, chronic pain, and other conditions. But rather than work on a policy that is based on science and compassion for players, the Commissioner appears to want to continue to enforce a failed policy, and in the process, push players towards more harmful substances like opioid painkillers.”

The Uncle Cliffy team will be keeping a close eye on this story to see how it develops. With no details emerging thus far about what the NFL and NFLPA working in tandem to craft a ‘less punitive’ cannabis policy would look like, all we can do is sit and wait. We truly hope that the studies and conversations are meaningful and constructive, and that they lead to an improved NFL cannabis policy. It would be very disheartening if yesterday’s announcement by the league turned out to just be empty rhetoric.

An NFL cannabis policy that allows medical cannabis use would be a great step in the right direction, but would be an approach that would not go far enough in our opinion. As we pointed out in a previous article, anything short of a complete end to cannabis prohibition in the NFL would result in institutional racism continuing to be perpetuated by the league. Players like Geronimo Allison, who was recently caught with cannabis in a non-medical state, would still be punished by the league, despite the fact that Mr. Allison was the victim of a law that affects African Americans at six times the rate of Caucasians.

If an African American NFL player is 6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis off the field, such as in Geronimo Allison’s case in Wisconsin, then that player is also 6 times as likely to be punished by the NFL for cannabis. An updated NFL cannabis policy needs to address that issue, which the current proposal would not do. The Uncle Cliffy team feels that the only way to do that is to end cannabis prohibition in the NFL altogether.

A medical-only approach to an NFL cannabis policy will still result in players of certain races being targeted off the field, and in the process, result in them having their NFL careers disproportionately impacted. It would likely also lead to unequal protections under the hypothetical NFL cannabis policy, with some players’ use being considered to be medical in nature, and others being labeled as ‘abuse.’ That’s a situation that NFL players should want to avoid by all means necessary.

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