Where Major League sports stand on cannabis

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From the NFL to MLB to NHL, each league has its own cannabis policies

The debate over cannabis in the US continues and is spilling over into the sports world. It has always been somewhat of a contentious subject, with each sports league creating its own guidelines and athletes repeatedly arguing that cannabis should not be illegal. Out of all the leagues, the NHL has, by far, the most relaxed cannabis policies, but discussions are underway that could bring similar frameworks to the other leagues, as well.

The NHL doesn’t test players for cannabis, or any street drug, in the off-season. During the regular season, it tests about a third of the players randomly, but those who are found to be consuming marijuana are simply ordered to attend a substance abuse program.

The NFL has a completely different view on marijuana. Perhaps the league receives kickbacks from opioid manufacturers, but the NFL has a strict no-marijuana policy. Players are tested during the seasons and even off-season and ten players from each team are tested each week. The first test that shows consumption results in the player being sent to a substance abuse program, but fines and suspensions are handed down for subsequent violations.

There is a little bit of hope, however. The NFL and the NFL Players Association are reportedly discussing changes to the league’s policies.

MLB is accepting of marijuana use, to a point. It doesn’t conduct random testing on players and only tests if it believes a player has an issue. Any player who is found to have consumed more than 50 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of urine has to attend a treatment program and pay a fine that can be as much as $35,000.

The NBA only began testing players for cannabis in 2000. However, it adopted a strict policy at the time that sees players tested four times a year. Anyone who tests positive for 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine will attend a program on the first offense. The second offense results in a $25,000 fine and a third offense will see the player suspended for five games.

The league’s policy is most likely going to change in the very near future. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that the league shouldn’t ban cannabis and has asserted, “I also recognize if [players] don’t want anti-anxiety medication, and they can’t smoke marijuana, they may drink more—which is perfectly legal. Obviously, you can overuse alcohol in our league, but we don’t have a prohibition on drinking and that might be much worse for them.”

If the federal government legalizes marijuana, the leagues won’t necessarily be forced to change their policies. However, the gambling man would put money on the sports leagues backing down, driven by the possibility that the players will most likely walk out if changes aren’t made that are to their benefit.