Consider that although marijuana currently remains illegal on a federal level, even the Department of Justice has made it a point not to put too much worry into halting its use. At the state level medicinal uses of marijuana are becoming more and more of a common thing as well. Nearly half of all states now allow legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, as well as our nation’s capital. In addition, Washington state and Colorado allow for recreational use of the drug. Furthermore, various uses of medicinal marijuana are soon expected to be signed into law in Florida.
What does all that mean? Well, besides a changing viewpoint of marijuana in America, the above paragraph means that soon 14 NFL teams will reside in states where residents may legally consume marijuana for medicinal — and in two cases, recreational — purposes. Despite that, should a player be caught using marijuana, he still faces significant penalties from the NFL, just as Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is finding out (again). But why is it that marijuana can lead to more punishment in the NFL than something such as a DUI or other significant legal issues? Why is marijuana use being punished at essentially the same level as performance-enhancing drugs, which can directly effect the game and a player’s health on and off-the-field? That’s the question I have, especially when many NFL teams reside in “marijuana-friendly” states.
Now, don’t confuse my questions as condoning or excusing the actions of Gordon and others who are caught by testing as they stand now. The rules of the NFL are just that, the rules. You know them, and you agree to follow them as a player. So there should be no lenience given to Gordon and others in that regard. But moving forward it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it in my opinion. We’ve already heard from former players about how the only safe relief they could truly get from the literal pain of playing football was the drug. But under NFL policy, even if a player resided in a state where he could use the drug (and in the link above, Jackson did), he couldn’t. If that player applied for a medical marijuana license to use the plant legally to reduce pain, he’d still be subject to suspension by the NFL.
So it’s time for the NFL to end marijuana punishments altogether. While the NFL has all the right in the world to make their own legal rules (even if marijuana was legal), that doesn’t mean they should. If a player finds marijuana to be better for him than popping a dozen Vicodin a day, then that should be his choice. The NFL still could reserve the right to punish players for more serious marijuana offenses should they occur (selling to minors, DUIs, etc), just as the do for alcohol-related arrests. But the NFL should step away from anything that potentially puts themselves between a player and his doctor and the medical choices that occur off the field — just as many states already have done, and as more continue to do so.