The National Football League is offering to work in tandem with the NFL Players Association to analyze the possible use of medical marijuana as a tool to manage pain among players. This is according to insiders familiar with the scenario. To date, this is the clearest indication that the league might be willing to cooperate with the union toward future cannabis use, which the sport currently bans.
However, the NFLPA is busy with its own study. According to those in the know, it has yet to provide the NFL with a response to its suggestion to cooperate on cannabis-related research. As the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, Joe Lockhart, says, “We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players.”
According to the insider, the NFL wrote the union a letter, asking if, due to the NFLPA’s public comments on marijuana use earlier this year, it would consider combining resources to work on research together. In the letter, the league outlines several areas of potential study, including pain management for both chronic and acute medical conditions.
The union indicated previously that it is already studying cannabis as a tool for pain management on its own and, in what it deems a related but separate issue, has interests in further changing the league’s rules about the use of recreational marijuana by players. In January, the NFLPA’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, spoke to reporters and editors from the Washington Post.
During this meeting, he said that the union is drafting a proposal for the league to adopt a “less punitive” approach to players using weed recreationally. He said, “I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate. I think it is important to look at whether there are addiction issues, and I think it is important to not assume recreation the reason for its use.”
He went on to ask, “How do you make sure that you address any potential addiction issue? Because I have read the literature on both sides. How do you deal with the fact that some people use it recreationally and pivot it to those who use it medicinally either as a pain eradicator or a stress-coping mechanism? What we have decided to do, as best we can, is look at it as a related but separate issue.”
When asked if he expects to present something to the board on the first issue in the near future, his response was an unequivocal yes. Currently, NFL players undergo drug testing for marijuana and face possible punishment if they test positively, including suspension from the game. Back in 2014 already, the union and league agreed to modify drug policy regarding cannabis use in the sport.
The result of that agreement was the relaxing of the positive threshold. Prior to 2014, having just 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood or urine counted as testing positive, which was the strictest standard of all professional sports. Because of the revision, players may now have 35 nanograms per milliliter before they will test positive. A single nano gram equals one-billionth of a gram.
Back in January, during a radio interview with Fox, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “We have had several conversations about this issue and several years ago we did take a less punitive approach to marijuana. That will be one of the subjects in the collective bargaining process, which we would like to get into sooner rather than later.”
Since the comments Smith made earlier this year, the union has yet to deliver its proposal to the league on a “less punitive” approach toward marijuana for players. One of these reasons is that the league would rather handle the issue during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement, instead of dealing with it as a separate matter.
Previously, both sides tried to negotiate a separate agreement on another, completely unrelated yet important issue – the sport’s protocols for disciplining players and the role of Goodell in it. However, at the last minute, the deal fell through. It is unlikely that the two sides will negotiate further on that issue until deliberations at the next collective bargaining agreement.
The son of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and an executive of the Dallas Cowboys, Stephen Jones, commented on these issues at the team’s training camp in Oxnard, Calif., last weekend. He said that it is challenging to decide whether to bargain such issues separately or whether to negotiate them solely within the context of a possible extension to the collective bargaining agreement.
According to Jones, “It is a great question. I think it is a debated question. Some people feel strongly that we should address it now. I think some people feel that we are close enough that you should wait and take care of it in one fell swoop when you sit down and bargain with the union. There are people who would love an extension. I think both sides would probably love to have it.”
He continued to say, “To me, personally, it is one opinion. I think whenever there are things that ought to be looked at, I think you ought to address them. I know Jerry feels that way, but at the same time, I am certainly respectful and understand that a lot of times these things, player discipline, in particular, are usually taken care of with a broad stroke within the CBA.”
These are difficult questions to answer. It is not just cannabis use at stake. The NFL and the NFLPA should continually address issues as they arise, particularly when it pertains to the use of marijuana among players. The majority of people in the United States are supportive of medical cannabis use, and it is important for the league and the union to meet their expectations in this regard.