Dallas Cowboy Owner Jerry Jones has started signaling his desire to tweak the NFL’s marijuana policy, when an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement is negotiated (currently, the CBA is scheduled to continue through 2020). Interestingly, Jones is seeking to reduce the penalties players receive for marijuana infractions, as well as some of the testing procedures.
Jones’ position is somewhat surprising, given that he is a 74-year-old Texan who made his money in the oil industry. However, it becomes crystal clear when you consider that his second-round draft pick from the 2015 NFL draft is currently serving what amounts to a 30-game suspension (he received a four-game suspension in February of 2016, followed by an additional 10-game suspension a few months later. After failing a third test, the league imposed an additional year-long extension, which amounts to 16 regular season games).
Of course, Jones’ Cowboys aren’t the only team in the league who have suffered from losing good players to marijuana-related suspensions. Let’s not forget former All-American, Heisman-Trophy-winning running back, Ricky Williams, who retired from the league at the peak of his career, after being suspended for testing positive for marijuana.
The current collective bargaining agreement or CBA – essentially a contract between the league owners and the players that establishes the rules and regulations with which they’ll be forced to comply – features laxer marijuana testing protocols and punishments than the previous CBA did. Historically, testing protocols stated that any sample containing more than 15 nanograms per milliliter would qualify as a positive test. Under the current CBA, samples must have 35 or more milligrams per milliliter to count as a positive test.
For comparison, Major League Baseball requires samples to have at least 50 nanograms per milliliter to trigger a positive result. The Olympics has even more forgiving testing procedures: These samples must possess at least 100 nanograms per milliliter to qualify as a positive test.
Many of Jones’ colleagues are likely to share his desires. After all, if your star player is not on the field, it is harder to be competitive, it is more difficult to fill the stadium and merchandise sales are likely to suffer as well. In some cases, advertising dollars may be redirected into other avenues, which hurts all of the league’s owners – even those who run squeaky clean teams.
Instead, the only opposition seems to be coming from the players. While representatives of the union have expressed a desire to eliminate or reduce the punishments that go along with positive tests, they do not appear to want testing to be completely eliminated. They want testing to ensure players have a safety net, that can catch those players suffering from addiction or mental-health issues. Additionally, the players worry about players not disclosing injuries to team doctors, so that they can treat their pain with cannabis. While cannabis may be a good choice for treatment, the teams want to know about every bump, bruise and hang-nail their multi-million-dollar athletes suffer from.