For the majority of us, sports and cannabis mix well. An evening baked while watching Sunday Night Football or enjoying a high outdoors at a ballpark sound divine to many avid sports and cannabis fans. However, a select few have to compete on the field. Although several athletes have admitted to competing while high, most remain sober to maximize their focus and abilities. But once they get off the field, cannabis is a valuable tool for many athletes looking for a quick recovery, good sleep, and to destress. For these players, cannabis rules.
However, most American sports leagues have rules surrounding cannabis. Only a decade ago, players could be suspended or even expelled from major sports leagues for using cannabis. NFL, MLB, and NBA players all suffered consequences due to these leagues’ antiquated cannabis testing policies. In the past several years, many leagues relaxed their drug testing requirements, finally embracing the benefits of cannabis. Although the rules differ, the major US sports leagues still have several cannabis rules, and violations can get players in serious trouble. Here is a list of the cannabis rules in major US sports leagues, how they have changed, and how players can use cannabis products to benefit their play.
MLB’s Cannabis Rules
The MLB is better known for its rigorous testing for drugs other than cannabis, predominantly steroids. Since the MLB tests players constantly for performance-enhancing drugs, cannabis testing was also part of the regiment. During the past decade, the MLB suspended many players in the minor and big leagues for stretches of 50 to 100 games, with a few even receiving full-season suspensions. Especially for up-and-coming players, a drug-related suspension posed a serious roadblock or even the end of their careers. For players just using cannabis to recover and relax, these penalties were ridiculous, considering that players suspended for performance-enhancing drugs served similar sentences.
Today, the MLB’s cannabis rules differ significantly from just a few years ago. Where just a few years ago, a positive cannabis test could result in a season-long suspension, MLB players are now free to use marijuana at their discretion. There is one exception, if players show up high to games and their club does not approve, they will be suspended. Furthermore, some MLB clubs are embracing cannabis products with sponsorships.
On April 7th, 2023, the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership with a cannabis company. The sponsorship revolves around a CBD-infused drink. Unlike marijuana, CBD does not cause a high but still helps with aching muscles and sleep. For players on the field, a quick CBD drink could help with performance on the field instead of getting them suspended.
NBA Cannabis Rules
There is a famous quote about NBA players and cannabis, “If the NBA tested for marijuana, there would be no one left in the league.” Although the origins of this phrase likely lie in racist stereotypes, it does point to the fact that the NBA has seldom suspended a player for using marijuana. Since 1986, only one NBA player has faced a marijuana-related suspension, Milwaukee Bucks player Larry Sanders, who served a 10-game suspension in 2015. Thankfully, the NBA has always looked favorably upon cannabis use, but their cannabis rules received a recent update.
As of 2019, NBA players no longer face random cannabis drug tests. Now, NBA players can use marijuana for recovery and relaxation. Due to the NBA’s long, 82-game schedule, many nights are spent on airplanes and in foreign hotel rooms. If you think travel is uncomfortable, imagine how taxing it would be if you were seven feet tall. Also, since the NBA does not test for cannabis, players can use it before games. Although many players elect not to, for some, the relaxation can help with anxiety disorders, amplified by the pressure of having tens of thousands of people watch you every night. Now, no NBA player needs to worry about their cannabis use.
NFL Cannabis Rules
The most popular sports league in the US, the NFL has a legacy of strict cannabis rules. For years, several players every season faced suspensions for marijuana infractions. These players could face half-season or year-long suspensions for using marijuana. Considering they needed marijuana to recover and kill pain from brutal injuries, the rules significantly affected them. One of the most famous examples is that of Josh Gordon.
An incredible wide receiver with other-worldly athleticism, he was one of the brightest stars in the NFL. Then, the NFL suspended him for two games because he tested positive for marijuana. A year later, a second offense led to a year-long suspension. Eventually, the NFL suspended Gordon for life. Although the league later reinstated Gordon, his prime years were washed away by marijuana penalties. Although Gordon dealt with other drug abuse too, it is no stretch to say that the NFL’s cannabis rules cost him his career. Thankfully, the NFL updated their cannabis rules.
The NFL recently revised their rules and only drug tests for marijuana between training camp and the first preseason game. Therefore, NFL players can use marijuana throughout the season to help recover. Although these rules are imperfect, a situation like Josh Gordon’s will hopefully never occur again.
NHL Cannabis Rules
The NHL has long been the gold standard for cannabis rules. Although the NHL does test for cannabis, the regulations are lax. The NHL does not reveal if players tested positive and will not suspend them. In the rare case that players have a “near-toxic” level of marijuana in their system, it will be treated like a drug abuse case like alcoholism. These abnormally high levels could only happen if a player smoked a giant bong right before a test, so it is improbable any player using weed for health and recovery will be popped for a positive test. Considering that the NHL has nearly as much intense contact between players as the NFL, these players definitely benefit from cannabis. Other sports leagues are just catching up by allowing their players to use cannabis freely, but the NHL blazed the trail.