Should the NFL Legalize Marijuana?

Should the NFL Legalize Marijuana?

When we started the National Pain Report, it was with the idea of covering the issue of chronic pain. The stories we have covered and commented upon have shined a light on many topics, including the growing use of medical marijuana to relieve pain.

So maybe it’s fitting that on Thanksgiving, we find ourselves looking at the National Football League — that most American of institutions – and how it deals with marijuana use by its players.

There are three games on Thanksgiving — all very important ones and all being played by men who played in a football game just 4 days earlier. That prompted San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy to write a piece that we highly recommend reading to give some insight about how these elite athletes repair themselves to do battle for us each week.

nfl-logoPurdy’s point is that four days isn’t enough.

The part about how players use painkillers in order to be able to do battle seems especially relevant to our audience.

We also know that a couple of weeks ago, federal drug enforcement agents showed up unannounced, as the AP put it, to check on three NFL teams’ medical staffs. The reason? Many former players claim that the teams mishandle prescription drugs (aka narcotic painkillers. We’re pretty sure they aren’t handing out Lipitor).

While there were no arrests, the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks all received a visit from the DEA. And the story is that these “visits” may continue.

“DEA agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the (Controlled Substances Act),”a DEA spokesman said.

And in case you are thinking this is something new — well it isn’t.

NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton was quoted recently saying this problem has been going on since his playing days in the 1960s and 1970s, and that the league ought to do something about it. (Here’s the story on Tarkenton).

The NFL is unbelievably influential (albeit surprisingly and brutally tone deaf on the issue of domestic abuse) and don’t think for a minute that if the league wanted to start a discussion about the use or abuse of pain medication-that we wouldn’t all listen.

They have been nibbling around the edges a little bit, especially on the issue of marijuana. The NFL and the players union are said to be close to an agreement that will make the use of marijuana less of a “crime” for the players.

According to the Atlantic Monthly, under the proposed new rules players will still be screened and punished for using marijuana, which would remain a designated “substance of abuse” akin to cocaine. However, pot-induced suspensions and banishments will require a higher number of failed tests than other substances.

The threshold for a positive marijuana test — how much of the drug needs to be in a player’s urine to trigger a red flag — will also more than double, though remain lower than thresholds used by Major League Baseball and the World Anti-Doping Association.

What we don’t understand is why the NFL just doesn’t go all the way, and remove any punishment tied to the use of marijuana. Marijuana is on the fast track toward becoming legal nationwide. It already is in Colorado and Washington (homes of last year’s Super Bowl participants). Voters in Alaska and Oregon just approved similar measures this month and other states — including California — are expected to follow suit in 2016.

Why should the NFL get ahead of this and go all the way and just say it’s okay for the players to smoke marijuana?

If for no other reason than just to change the subject.

Because when the DEA starts sniffing around your locker rooms because of pain medication abuse and you continue to fumble on the issue of domestic violence, you can use a win.

Authored by: Ed Coghlan

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Kurt W.G. Matthies

Sorry Ed, but the NFL has more on it’s plate than its marijuana policy. Since Americans have been brainwashed for 100 years about the dangers of illegal drugs, the NFL has little to worry about regarding a typical fan’s attitude about marijuana use, in spite of recent changes in some state legislatures. The federal government still considers MJ as an FDA classified Schedule I substance.

Roger Goodell, president of the non-profit organization known as the NFL has been busier than a one-armed paper hanger protecting the all-American image of a business that earns almost $10 billion annually, and has set a target annual income of $25 billion by the year 2027.

Goodell has been preoccupied with a lawsuit brought against his non-profit by over 4500 former players seeking compensation for damages incurred while employed by affiliated teams. Their suit claims that Goodell has been involved in a conspiracy with licensed physicians employed by the NFL and its affiliate teams to obfuscate the science linking football with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a fatal disease found in the brains of over 75% deceased former players.

The NFL and plaintiffs recently settled this lawsuit for $765 million, $675 million of which to be used to compensate former players with related brain diseases and the families of deceased players who have suffered cognitive injury or committed suicide after suffering from CTE. $75 million will be set aside for baseline medical exams, and $10 million will be set aside for research and education.

Part of the agreement stipulates that this settlement “cannot be considered an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football.”

Because medical science is only beginning to understand the link between concussion, sub concussive impacts, and traumatic brain disease, we have no idea how many players involved with childhood, high school, college, and professional foorball will develop brain disease.

Since there are over 18,000 retired players, this settlement amounts to less than $37,500 per player for medical expenses.

In 2025, the NFL projects an income of $25 billion. Injured players with chronic brain disease can expect a maximum of $5 million for treatment under this settlement. There is great controversy over this settlement, and I doubt that we’ve heard the end of this issue in the world of contact sports.

With other controversies regarding the off-field behavior of NFL players, MMJ use in the NFL is low on Goodell’s todo list that in my opinion, the issue will never see the light of day.

In the real world, where chronic pain patients struggle to perform simple functions like cooking, shopping, and even dressing ourselves, we face challenges much more relevant to guaranteeing our access to adequate and effective pain treatment than whether their favorite football player gets to smoke a doobie after the big game.


These players choice to abuse their bodies and cause damage that causes severe chronic pain. Why shouldn’t the DEA be overseeing their use of prescription pain killers just like they pversee the use of a father who was in a MVA and must continue to work to support his family ? I’m sure there is something I’m missing here. Surely, no one is saying that the pain these players have deserves any better treatment than that of regular folks.