Doctors and Players for NFL Cannabis Reform
The National Football League’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse prohibits the “illegal use of drugs,” including cannabis in a list that implicitly equates it with substances like cocaine, opioids, MDMA and PCP. If they test positive for cannabis, NFL players can be fined, suspended and potentially banished from the league.
As it stands now, the Policy prevents players from participating in the medical marijuana programs that are currently legal in states where 22 NFL franchises play their home games. While the discrete use of medical marijuana would seem to be allowed under the Policy’s ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’ (TUE), we understand such exemptions have never been granted as a matter of practice. According to an ESPN poll released In November 2016, 61% of NFL players believed painkiller use would decrease if the league allowed marijuana as an alternative. For recovery and pain control, more players actually preferred marijuana over painkillers. At a time when 28,000 Americans per year are dying from opioid overdoses, with NFL players four times more likely than the general population to develop painkiller addictions, the players’ feedback should come as no surprise.
On November 8, 2016, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized marijuana for personal consumption. They joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, where it was already legal for adults. That represents about 25% of the US population, and includes seven NFL franchises. Regardless, the NFL still prohibits its players from using cannabis in these states where it is now completely legal.
In solidarity with many current and former NFL players, in 2016 we submitted an Open Letter to the NFL.
We recommend that the NFL and its Physicians Society:
- treat cannabis like alcohol under the Policy
- consider medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain management
- support promising research into potential neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids
- play a leading role in addressing the overprescription of opioids across the league
We also make the following observations. Each year, many NFL players are suspended for violations of the Policy. Almost all are African-American. A failed marijuana test accounts for many, if not most, of the suspensions. The disproportionate impact of the war on drugs is beyond dispute at the national level, with blacks proving almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession. A Major League Baseball player would have to fail multiple tests before being sanctioned, almost exclusively with fines. The National Hockey League does not suspend players who test positive for cannabis. Incidentally, both leagues are predominantly comprised of white players. Only the NFL and the NBA—the two leagues with the higher concentrations of African-American players, at 68% and 74% respectively—routinely discipline their players with suspension and banishment. As physicians, we are here to promote the health and safety of players who deserve better.
An Open Letter to the National Football League
NFL Steering Committee Chairs
Mike James (Steering Committee Co-Chair) is currently an active NFL player, drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. His history-making game against the Seattle Seahawks lead him to be officially declared “a force to be reckoned with”. The following week Mike suffered a season-ending injury. Mike soon returned to the sport that he loves. Back on the field, trauma to the body continued, including multiple concussions. Mike began to research natural forms of effective relief for chronic pain, brain injury recovery and cognitive function maintenance. He is now an evangelist for medical cannabis as an alternative to addictive opioids and more harmful medications.
Derrick Morgan (NFL Steering Committee Co-Chair) is a current linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. Derrick has been calling for the NFL to consider the benefits of medical marijuana. Derrick’s cannabis advocacy has been featured by ABC News, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN and USA Today. Follow Derrick on Twitter here. In June 2016, Eugene Monroe and Derrick spoke with Katie Couric about the NFL’s need to reconsider its policy on cannabis.
Eugene Monroe (DFCR Athletics Ambassador and NFL Steering Committee Co-Chair) is a former offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Eugene retired from the NFL in July 2016, citing concerns over head trauma sustained during his career and the risk of developing neurological problems. He has appeared on ESPN’s Sports Center to discuss responsible marijuana use in the NFL. The VICE series ‘Weediquette’ recently featured Eugene in a full episode dedicated to the NFL. Eugene’s advocacy has been featured by ESPN, Rolling Stone, NBC Sports, USA Today, Fox Sports, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Deadspin. Follow Eugene on Twitter here.
NFL Steering Committee Members
Todd Herremans is an American football offensive guard who is currently a free agent. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, and played there for ten seasons. He played college football at Saginaw Valley State University. Herremans is an advocate for the medical use of cannabis. He has called on the NFL to change its policy towards cannabis, arguing that it can help curtail the abuse of opioids that is prevalent among NFL players.
Lance Johnstone is a former NFL defensive end. His advocacy for player health and safety has been featured by Forbes. As a spokesperson for the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, Lance has participated in a number of charitable events.
Jim McMahon is a former NFL quarterback. He won two Super Bowl rings with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. In this ABC news spot from January 2016, Jim credits cannabis with relieving symptoms associated with severe headaches, depression, memory loss, vision and speech problems. His cannabis advocacy has been featured by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News. Follow Jim on Twitter here.
Jake Plummer is a former NFL quarterback. His cannabis advocacy has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and Fox Sports. He has appeared on Fox 31 Denver. Follow Jake on Twitter here.
Kyle Turley is a former NFL All-Pro offensive lineman. He is a lead educator-activist for the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition. VICE recently aired a 4-part series entitled ‘Chasing Strains’ that follows Kyle’s journey through the potential applications of medical marijuana in sports. Watch Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Follow Kyle on Twitter here.
Marvin Washington is a former defensive end. He is the Co-Founder of IsoSport, a producer of a hemp-based line of high-performance products designed to support the needs of professional and “prosumer” athletes. Marvin’s cannabis advocacy has been featured by USA Today, the New York Daily News, Dope Magazine and Vibe. Follow Marvin on Twitter here.
Boo Williams is a former tight end, who played seven years for the New Orleans Saints. He has worked with many organizations such as Feeding America and the Boys and Girls Clubs. In 2014, Boo founded the Crosby Sports Treatment Program, dedicated to helping former professional athletes suffering from neurocognitive issues. His cannabis advocacy has been featured by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Daily Beast.