For the first time since the NFL began its drug testing program, it will not test players for THC, the main chemical found in cannabis. Following the league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) passed last year, the push to reduce harsh penalties for the use of marijuana was successfully adopted.
Coincidentally, the off season drug testing window began on April 20th of this year and will run through August 9th, just before preseason training begins for players. Celebrated for many years as the official holiday for marijuana users, April 20th has recently become much more mainstream in American society as a major holiday devoted to celebrating cannabis and its culture. Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described it as “an unofficial American holiday” last Tuesday.
What Do the New Rules Incorporated Into the NFL’s Drug Testing Policy Mean For Players?
While NFL players will still be tested for THC once preseason action begins in August, the severity of punishment will be reduced greatly. Under the new CBA, the criterion for what constitutes a positive marijuana test has increased from 35 nanograms in a players’ system to 150 nanograms. Just as notable, players can no longer be suspended from games for a positive result. Rather, the league can fine players for up to three weeks’ pay.
If players do test positive for marijuana during preseason training camps, a board of medical professionals delegated by both players and the league will review their test. A subsequent decision will then be made on whether the player requires treatment.
In past seasons, severe penalties meant players not only lost pay but also missed games. One positive test culminated in a referral to the league’s substance abuse program. If a second or third violation occurred, players were fined pay for two to four games respectively. A fourth violation resulted in a four-game suspension, a fifth violation was a 10-game suspension and a one-year ban followed a sixth violation. According to the new CBA, the possibility of this occurring is far less likely.
Political Change and Public Support Are Partially to Thank for the NFL Weed Policy Change
With the NFL deciding to pivot from significant punishment for positive marijuana tests towards an approach that focuses on treatment and education, the league has begun mirroring not only new reforms to legislation in many states but also public sentiment on how marijuana usage should be viewed. In fact, a Gallup poll from November cited that some 68% of Americans now support legalization.
These policy reforms in the CBA last year were made possible through the NFLPA’s insistence on big changes to drug testing on cannabis. By agreeing to expand the regular season schedule to 17 games, the player’s association gained some leverage with the league on their existing drug testing policy. Many current and former NFL players have been strong advocates for these changes as well. As some of the biggest names in the sport like Rob Gronkowski, Marshawn Lynch, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Calving Johnson have enlisted their support of the cannabis industry either through investment or endorsements, reforms to the harsh penalties for positive marijuana tests throughout the league have gained backing.
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