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The High Life

It's Ridiculous That the NFL Still Hasn't Legalized Weed

One doctor explains the holdup.

Austin Williams

Austin Williams

Photo: Al Bello / Getty Images Sport

About two weeks ago, the Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), a non-profit organization, published an open letter to the National Football League. In this letter, the DFCR case for why the NFL should reconsider its ban on marijuana—they mostly argue that it's a safer alternative to other prescription painkillers. However, if you follow the NFL's legislative moves as closely as the fate of your fantasy team, then you know as well as I do that it's going to take more than a letter to get the NFL to reconsider anything.

In the wake of the league's proven ineptitude in appropriately punishing domestic abusers on their first swing, it should be clear to us now that the NFL, a league without its own moral compass, responds to public shame. Fans have to speak, scream, and shout for anything to happen.

In that spirit, you all deserve some context for the DFCR's message to the NFL. While some of the reasons they urge legalization are obvious and some more nuanced, they're all valid.

The Obvious:

By now, it's safe to surmise that many citizens have understood and accepted that marijuana can be palliative in nature. For some, the silver lining of this past election shines in the fact that certain areas of the country seem to have gotten past this Reefer Madness type of idea that suggests weed is the worst thing in the world. Either that, or they came to the same logical conclusion as the DFCR came to in their letter, realizing "banning cannabis does little to curb its use."

"We're not talking about a drug that is lethal in overdose," David Nathan, psychiatrist and DFCR's founder explains. "This drug is less addictive than some legal drugs, particularly tobacco and alcohol, and so to make this one illegal while keeping the others legal is logically and morally inconsistent."

Many former players reportedly suffer from addictions to NFL-approved opioids. According to the DFCR's open letter "a recent study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found 52% of retired NFL players had used prescription pain medications during their active years. Of those, 71% reported misusing these drugs, with approximately one in seven players reporting ongoing dependence."

There's also some hypocrisy in the NFL's opposition to cannabis. According to the DFCR, medicinal marijuana can be used as a "pain management alternative and potential neuroprotectant."

In fact, the NFL's Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, the policy that bans the use of cannabis, even contains a "Therapeutic Use Exemption"—a loophole for players seeking to be treated by a physician with a banned substance for any condition. This exemption hasn't been granted to a single player in the case of medicinal marijuana.

Under their current policy, the league seems to be exhibiting a symptom of a larger, more national issue—the criminalization of marijuana, which is criminal itself since cannabis should be treated as a public health issue (28 states have now come around to the idea of medical marijuana use).

The Nuanced:

Professional football players represent a relatively small percentage of our population, so if you as a fan don't necessarily care about concussions or pain management, while that's unfortunate, that's ultimately understandable. However, the most pressing reason why this policy matters is that the league's current ban on weed perpetuates America's failed war on drugs—a war that has disproportionately destroyed the lives of so many people of color.

Nathan reiterates much of the information stated towards the end of his organization's open letter, shedding light on the fact that the NFL's ban falls in line with a national "policy that is so blatantly discriminatory."

"There is an intrinsic bias in the existence and application of marijuana prohibition, and that's ubiquitous across the country." He continues, "you are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use if you are African American, and that takes into account that there are fairly similar usage rates between whites and blacks."

Nathan also tells me, "Within the NFL, of the 19 players that have been suspended for drug policy infractions this season, about half of them are for marijuana. And of those 19, 18 are African American, and the other one is also a person of color."

It's been famously stated that the NFL "owns a day of the week." Aside from being able to physically heal its players, imagine how much a league with that much power could influence the healing our broken system—all by letting some guys smoke pot.