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Last week during the NFL’s Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, the 32 team owners held a private meeting to discuss things like Commissioner Roger Goodell’s future contract and succession planning, the practice of investigating off-field misconduct, and the NFL’s position on cannabis. One in particular, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, was extremely vocal in his support for dropping the prohibition of marijuana use in the league.

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Jones would like the league to stop disciplining players who test positive for cannabis usage. Deciding to remove the ban on marijuana, which is currently banned under the league’s substance abuse policy, isn’t quite that easy though. Neither the owners, nor the NFL can make this decision without incorporating the process into the future collective bargaining talks.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. (Pro Football Spot photo)

While these talks will most likely not occur until the current NFL and NFLPA collective bargaining agreement expires in 2020, the support from one of the league’s most powerful owners is a giant step forward. Jones, having had three Dallas Cowboy defenders suspended in the past due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, is no stranger to the NFL’s strict stance on cannabis. Currently, the NFL’s threshold for a positive marijuana test is 35 nanograms per milliliter, the strictest out of the four major sports.

  • MLB – 50 nanograms per milliliter
  • NBA – In the NBA, urine samples are submitted to the World Anti-Doping Agency, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, and WADA has a threshold of 150 ng/ml.
  • NHL – Cannabis is not restricted or tested.

While the NFL’s testing procedure for marijuana may still be the strictest, the league has reduced the penalties for positive tests. Multiple failed tests however, can still get you banned from ever playing in the league again. Because of this, many players and cannabis advocates see the current standards and restrictions as unfair and potentially dangerous. As it turns out, science may very well be on Jones’s and the players’ side.

Recreational cannabis use is currently legal in eight U.S. States, as well as the District of Columbia. In 20 additional states, medical marijuana use is permitted. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, NFL players are banned from using cannabis under any circumstances, including medical treatment. The long-term use of drugs with highly addictive properties, like the opiates prescribed for common aches and pains suffered by many professional football players, put them at serious risk of drug dependency, overdose, and potentially even death.

Because of this, many former NFL players have been vocal in criticizing the substance abuse policy. In an interview with Deadspin regarding the widespread use of opiates in the league, former NFL offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said this:

“There’s a stigma associated with cannabis. But I think that stigma is loosened and removed as people become educated that cannabis really has medical value. It has real applications, and I believe that application can also be included in sports.”

Cannabis has been shown to be extremely effective at treating the symptoms of chronic pain. The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering published an extensive literature review earlier this year showing “substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

For Jerry Jones and many others, bringing up the issue of removing cannabis from the list of banned substances in the NFL could not have come at a better time. While understanding that a more lenient drug policy will mean concessions on the part of the NFLPA, an initial dialogue is an important step.

“We sent the union last spring, several pages or lists of issues that we wanted to address,” Goodell said in February. “As the league and as ownership and I expect – and we put on that list drug policy as one of those issues – so we would love to engage, but I think what we’re seeing is a reason why we should all sit down and get at the table, begin negotiations so that if we want to reach a different policy on either the drug policy or any other matter, we can all begin that earlier and do it in a way that’s responsible.”

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