Florida and the Return of the NBA: a case study for cannabis and professional sports

Earlier this week the NBA announced the season will be returning with a few conditions. Under COVID-19 practices, the League will restart the season at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on July 31. Only 22 of the 30 official teams will be participating. The League also announced that while it will continue to test for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), it will not be testing for recreational substances such as cannabis. Medical cannabis is legal in Florida.

When it comes to politics and culture, the NBA has proven to be far more progressive than any of its professional athletic league counterparts. While the NFL and NASCAR have recently taken huge steps forward with their efforts to support Black Lives Matters, it has been the NBA leading the progressive way. In 2017, League commissioner Adam Silver made the decision to relocate the All-Star game to Louisiana after the State of North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. The Act, also known as HB2, restricted individuals to using public bathrooms that correspond to the sex designated on their birth certificate. In doing so, the Act undermined any effort made by a local government to protect members of the LGBTQ community.

Later in the week it was announced that Michele Roberts, executive director for the NBA’s player’s union and longtime advocate for cannabis, will be joining the board of Cresco Labs. Cresco Labs is a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing company headquartered in Illinois. As a member of the board, Roberts will help the company develop cannabis-based medical treatment options, but will more importantly, help Cresco Labs in their efforts to promote social equity. Roberts, who believes that cannabis will be decriminalized throughout the Nation in a few years, is already urging NBA executives to consider the future. Her voice contributed largely to the NBA’s decision to not test for recreational substances, a practical decision that now gives us the opportunity to see what happens when cannabis isn’t being regulated in professional sports.

I have had the privilege of working with several professional athletes from the NBA, NFL and MLB. Some of them have simply been curious about the cannabis industry and wanted to indulge, while others have taken the leap and have gone on to build successful cannabis brands. The one thing I have asked them all, “How many players in the league use cannabis?”

If my sources are accurate, an overwhelming majority of professional athletes—in any league—currently use cannabis and/or cannabis products. Why wouldn’t they? Cannabis is an effective alternative to opioids and can help prevent opioid addiction, which runs rampant in the NFL. According to a study conducted in 2010, over half of the retired NFL players surveyed acknowledged having used opioids during their career. Of this majority, over 70-percent reported having abused the substance. The study indicates that opioid abuse was most associated with pain and mental impairment resulting from undiagnosed concussions.

The NFL players that I have spoken with understand the laws surrounding cannabis and they certainly understand the NFL’s current position on the plant and the penalties involved. But for them, using cannabis isn’t simply an act of resistance or rebellion, it’s a health conscious decision that may spare them and their loved ones from a battle with addiction. Cannabis, for many athletes and individuals dealing with pain, is the anti-gateway drug… it’s an alternative.

The NBA will be the first professional athletic league to stop testing for cannabis. And, I believe they will do this before cannabis is decriminalized throughout the Nation. If anything, the NBA has demonstrated a practical logic that in contrast to the MLB and NFL stems from its players, not the owners. This in conjunction with the NBA’s progressive leadership and guidance from Michele Roberts, will no doubt see to an inevitable end of cannabis testing in the League.

See:Head of NBA players’ union joins marijuana company as league reportedly temporarily suspends drug testing

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