With widespread acceptance of marijuana and studies coming out every day on the benefits of marijuana, the socials norms and the general perception of marijuana is changing. Many are reevaluating what the issue is with marijuana and why it has been so heavily criticised with little basis on the effects its actually has on individuals and wider society. A Gallup study recently indicated that for the first time in history, the majority of Republicans are supportive of marijuana legalization. 1 in 5 people in the USA currently live in a state where the use of marijuana is completely legal. And with Canada recognizing recreational marijuana next year, the USA is starting to ask questions about its own marijuana policy and the potential applications of marijuana.
Medical Marijuana Removed from the List
One area where the perception of marijuana is changing is in the sports industry, among many others, and in basketball in particular. Former NBA commissioner David Stern thinks it’s time for a change. David Stern was the commissioner for the NBA from 1984 until 2014. Stern sat down with former player Al Harrington (who played over 15 years in the league and has since become an advocate and entrepreneur in the medical marijuana business) in a recent documentary aired on ”Uninterrupted”. Harrington talked to Stern about his tenure as commissioner, his handling of the drug’s use among players and how his perception has changed. According to Stern – “I’m now at the point where personally I think it should be removed from the banned list”. Stern said that Harrington’s points had changed his views on the matter.
During the interview, Stern made some interesting observations on marijuana in the sport. It was widely accepted that until the rules became more stringent, many of the players were smoking marijuana, with some players coming into games stoned. At the time it was generally accepted that marijuana was a gateway drug that would lead to harder stuff. This has since been more or less disproven. In fact, data from most states where medical marijuana has become a reality has indicated that prescriptions for opioids goes down in the subsequent period. And studies have been completed which showed no correlation between marijuana usage and harder substances.
Marijuana and Performance
There is also the issue that has never been examined – could marijuana usage actually increase the performance of players? It is widely held and easily observable that people who are stoned do not have the same hand to eye coordination or focus in general, as well as short term memory. However, marijuana could have many indirect benefits to players, such as topicals applied after games, general rest and relaxation and stress reducing capacities that could indirectly feed into the game of basketball. What if players who smoked marijuana were able to add an extra year to their game time? Or have a better percentage of completed passes compared to those who did not smoke daily or occasionally? There is a whole world of unexplored marijuana benefits. Unfortunately, it is hard to measure such benefits. At the same time, it is not fair to ban those who smoke marijuana as long as they do so outside of game time, when it could interfere with their performance.
While recreational marijuana may be debated, a ban on medical marijuana is definitely a step too far. Marijuana is uniquely suitable for those with certain illnesses. The issue is that most people who need marijuana for medical illnesses do not play in the NBA. People with PTSD, glaucoma, Parkinson’s, MS, ALS, Autism and other debilitating conditions generally do not make the cut. What would happen in practice is that players would obtain medical marijuana (depending on the state this can be easy or difficult to do) when they really do not qualify or need it. This would bypass the ruling, but would be state dependent. In California, it might be possible to get some medical marijuana, but most certainly not in Pennsylvania or Florida, where you need to be a fantastic actor or else suffer from a debilitating illness. There might be a few genuine medical marijuana patients who play in the NBA, but the number should quite small if medical marijuana was removed from the list. According to Stern:
“If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I would think you should be allowed to do what is legal in your state. Now I think it’s up to the sports leagues to anticipate where this is going and maybe lead the way.”
The NBA Position on Marijuana
However, the position of the NBA remains unchanged as of now. As per Mike Bass, NBA spokesperson: “While Commissioner Silver has said that we are interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana, our position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes.” It can hardly be expected that the NBA make the change immediately, given that marijuana legalization is a relatively recent phenomenon. But within 5 years it is a safe bet that medical marijuana will be removed from the list of banned substances, and that players in certain states might take advantage of feigned medical conditions.