nba basketball cannabis marijuana

NBPA Executive Director: ‘Not There Yet’ On NBA Medical Cannabis Reform

Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson has been helping lead an effort to reform the harmful, outdated cannabis policy of the National Basketball League (NBA). Current NBA cannabis policy is such that there are no exceptions for cannabis use by NBA players, even when the cannabis use is legal in the state where the consumption takes place, and even when the use is for medical purposes.

The NBA subjects its players to several random cannabis tests throughout the season and has the strictest cannabis testing limit out of the major sports leagues. The NBA’s 15 ng/mL THC metabolite threshold is ten times as strict as what Olympic athletes are held to. Many NBA players have been suspended for cannabis use over the years, including Clifford Robinson (multiple times).

Alcohol use by players is not prohibited by the NBA, despite alcohol being 114 times more harmful than cannabis. The NBA also pushes opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs on its players, despite cannabis being safer a safer, effective alternative. The blatant hypocrisy on the part of the NBA is unacceptable, and a growing number of current and retired players have joined Clifford Robinson in demanding a change.

Cannabis reform in the NBA can come via one of two routes. The first is if NBA leadership decides to end cannabis prohibition, but that does not appear to be likely for whatever reason. The much more likely route is via collective bargaining negotiations between players and owners. In order for that to happen though, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) will have to take the lead on the issue during negotiations.

The sports community gained insight this week into whether or not cannabis reform is on the NBPA’s radar when the executive director of the NBPA, Michele Roberts, participated in an interview with SB Nation and discussed medical cannabis reform in the league. Below is what Michele Roberts had to say, per the interview:

Everyone claims to have done their own independent study. What we want to do is agree on some experts that can sit down and talk to us. My own view is that there are substantial signs that support its efficacy and the value that it has for us, especially pain management. We’re in talks with the league to see where we can go with it.

The obvious future is that marijuana will be decriminalized probably throughout the country in short order. Don’t forget our current attorney general [Jeff Sessions], who has taken a very different approach to his tolerance for this. That makes it a little more difficult.

It is a banned substance in our league right now. If we do go down that road, we have to protect our players from — my words — a crazed attorney general who says he will prosecute violations of the law involving marijuana and he doesn’t care what individual states say.

In other words, I don’t want my guys being arrested at airports in possession of a cannabinoid by some fed. It’s against the law. So, we’ll see.

There is no medical exemption?

No. It does not exist now. We’re exploring it. I think there is some movement toward accepting it as an appropriate use to address pain. But we’re not there yet.

The interview covers multiple points. The first is one that comes up a lot when cannabis reform is discussed – cannabis studies. The fact of the matter is that cannabis is one of the most studied substances known to man, and the Uncle Cliffy team continues to encourage NBA officials to look at the mountain of cannabis research that already exists which shows that cannabis is safe and effective. The current body of studies dealing with cannabis and pain, reducing opioid use, and traumatic brain injuries are of particular importance.

Secondly, Michele Roberts expresses concerns about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-cannabis views. Those fears are not well founded, and should not serve as justification for continued cannabis prohibition in the NBA. The federal government going after an individual for simply consuming cannabis, including professional athletes, would be unprecedented.

Possessing cannabis on federal property is one thing, as is trying to fly with cannabis (which no one is proposing that athletes should do). But the odds of the federal government going after a professional athlete simply for being a cannabis consumer is very, very low and likely non-existent as the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out previously (here, here, here, and here).

Executive director Roberts’ last words of the excerpt above were disappointing to read. ‘We’re not there yet’ is not good enough. NBA players have to deal with all types of conditions and ailments, and cannabis has been proven to help people that suffer from those conditions and ailments.

Cannabis is safer than other substances that the NBA embraces. Also, cannabis laws have been reformed in one form or another in every state and country that NBA teams are located. Michele Roberts recently attended a cannabis company launch party, so hopefully she is warming up to the idea of cannabis reform in the NBA at a rapid pace. It’s beyond time that the NBA, and the NBPA, got on the ride side of history and put the health and wellness of NBA players above outdated political views. Free the plant!

More background on Uncle Cliffy’s coverage of cannabis and the NBA:

Polling Shows That The NBA’s Fanbase Supports Cannabis Reform
Ending Cannabis Prohibition In The NBA Shouldn’t Be So Difficult
Ex-NBA Commissioner Supports Removing Cannabis From List Of Banned Substances
Report: Adam Silver Says NBA Is Open To Medical Cannabis Reform