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NFL tackles cannabis reform

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson scrambles during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff game in January in Green Bay, Wis.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson scrambles during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff game in January in Green Bay, Wis. (Associated Press)
By Dan Webster EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

Many of us who have been abiding by COVID-19 protocols, including wearing masks in public, have had to deal with a whole range of emotions: denial, anger, depression, etc.

And not to make light of anyone’s situation, because the whole polarized political scene in the U.S. today is complicating all our lives, but even our escapist hobbies and entertainment – live music events, going to the cinema – may not be able to provide respite any time soon.

For many, a favorite diversion typically begins in mid-July when teams from the National Football League begin seasonal training camps. In 2019, for example, the Seattle Seahawks began their pre-season camp at Renton’s Virginia Mason Athletic Center for rookies on July 17 and July 24 for veterans.

Like everything about this year, COVID-19 may delay or even cancel NFL camps, pre-season games, and possibly the entire season.

As of the time of this writing in early July, the league has been looking at these factors on a day-to-day basis, and oddsmakers are hedging their bets whether a full or partial season will truly kick off as scheduled on Sept. 10.

When or if players do report back, plan to see health restrictions on individual teams.

DeMaurice Fitzgerald Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said player health and safety is guiding the league, rather than team revenue or fan demands.

“Our priority is always going to be the health and safety” he said in May. “There is a long list of hurdles we have to get over and things we have to watch and check. We just continually seek out information to be informed.”

COVID-19 protocols, however, aren’t the only new thing that the NFL will be addressing this season, assuming a season happens.

On March 15, the league and the players union ratified a 10-year labor agreement that also included a change in cannabis policies.

According to the New York Times, NFL players who test positive for marijuana “will no longer be suspended.” Testing will be limited to the first two weeks of training camp, and the level of THC required to achieve a positive test “will be raised fourfold.”

In relaxing its rule on cannabis usage, the NFL both reflected changes already instituted by professional baseball and basketball leagues and adheres to a larger cultural acceptance of cannabis as a recreational drug and medical aid.

According to the Times, Major League Baseball in December relegated marijuana to the same category as alcohol.

The National Hockey League requires no punishment for a positive test. National Basketball Association players face the harshest requirements: They are required to take four tests during the season, one positive leads to a drug program, second involves a $25,000 fine and a third can lead to a five-game suspension.

Regarding the NFL’s new policy, Paul Haagen, co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University, told the Times, “There is a generalized sense that the fans don’t care about the issue, so it’s possible to appear progressive.”

This isn’t to say that the league has approved all use of cannabis. Depending on the number of positive tests, players can be fined several weeks of salary. And some teams – the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans – operate in states where cannabis use is still deemed illegal.

Both the league and the players association will continue to study the effects of marijuana, which some experts have said is a suitable substitute for prescription opioids, the use of which in a number of cases have led to dangerous addictions.

As Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone wrote in late 2019, “The recuperative benefits of marijuana aren’t definitive, but there are certainly strong indications that it helps the body deal with pain – and pro football players are in constant pain. It’s certainly a much better route to go than opioids, the prevalent means of pain management in the NFL. One need look no longer than the national opioid epidemic to see the dangers therein.”

Which, to finish the argument, is something to which 10-year NFL veteran Jake Plummer can attest. The Boise native who now lives in Sandpoint discovered the benefits of cannabis, especially CBD, when he played for the Denver Broncos between 2003 and 2006.

In a May interview with, “The inflammation in my joints that stiffened up in the cold winter months was gone. The random headaches that would throb behind my eyes to the beat of my heart? Gone. I still eat gluten and sugar, I still enjoy a cold brew or two. The only thing different? CBD.”

Dan Webster is a former Spokesman-Review staff writer who is a community producer for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for
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