On Tuesday, the National Basketball Association’s Adam Silver went on the Bleacher Report’s “The Full 48” podcast and suggested the league might soon be making changes to its cannabis policy.
This disclosure happened during a long conversation that might be the most in-depth public cannabis discussion had by a commissioner of one of the big four sports leagues in the United States.
“I didn’t intend to break news,” Silver said on the podcast. “But there have been ongoing discussions with the players association for some time. We should follow the science. It’s not an ethical issue for me. It’s not a moral issue for me.”
Silver said he believes there are a bunch of hurdles the NBA must deal with in moving forward with the plan, first and foremost the patchwork of state and federal laws that currently define the nation’s cannabis policy.
“It creates difficulty for us, and for the players, when there is a hodgepodge of regulations,” he said.
Despite estimates from retired NBA players that up to 80 percent of the league is smoking marijuana, the league has instituted no real reforms to deal with the changing times. The NBA still tests its players for cannabis use and imposes punishments if the tests return positive.
All the while, pot is accepted as medicine by many Americans, and many of the league’s best teams like the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers and the Celtics find themselves in legal adult-use states.
“The Full 48” host Howard Beck got the cannabis-infused chat going by asking Silver about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent change in stance on marijuana legalization an hour and 15 minutes into the show.
“[Cuomo] announced he was changing his position,” Silver said. “He was someone a few years ago I was listening to say ‘I hear everyone who’s saying we should legalize marijuana. I’m watching what’s happening in other states, but what my experts are telling me is it’s still bad for people. And incidentally, it creates concerns about people driving under the influence and all the other societal issues that are related to it.’”
Travel Concerns, Health Concerns
Silver highlighted travel as a major worry for the league when it comes to medical marijuana, which makes sense. Any player or personnel facing criminal charges over handling medical marijuana is definitely a worst-case scenario.
“It’s a bit of a trap for our players, or any team employee for that matter, that could be living and playing in one state and travel with marijuana to another state,” Silver said. “They could be breaking the law. And those laws apply to charter planes as well. That’s an issue. Also, just the fact there are different laws in different jurisdictions that require players and teams to keep track of that. Even if it’s medical marijuana.”
Silver went on to provide more specific examples: “It’s legal in Colorado, but now you’re playing the Knicks. Make sure you don’t travel with it. You know that’s a trap. You could be arrested or sanctioned in some way by the government for having that same medical marijuana in New York.”
Throughout his comments on cannabis policy, Silver made clear that his focus would be on what the science shows about the efficacy of cannabis as medicine.
“We and the Players Association are both looking into this,” he said. “It surprises me, there isn’t as much… frankly science, out there as I would have thought — in terms of how the medical efficacy of using medical marijuana. Now I don’t mean to suggest that the people who say it’s effective for them it’s not, and I understand it’s like a lot of other things we deal with in the league. It’s a balancing of issues.”
Silver says health concerns come into play as well, because although one can consume marijuana a multitude of ways, he doesn’t think players should be smoking, whether it’s tobacco or marijuana.
“And again, I understand there are other ways they can be using marijuana,” he said. “There’s edibles, there’s CBD oil, there’s byproducts of marijuana. There are other approaches.”
Why NBA Players Currently Use Cannabis
Silver said that well-known, high profile players have talked to him openly about mental health issues in recent years, such as stress, insomnia and anxiety, and they’ve also mentioned marijuana.
“I understand that players are self-medicating as a way of dealing with those issues and question if we ban marijuana what then they’ll otherwise use.”
According to Silver, players have approached him about not using marijuana because it’s banned but then getting prescribed anti-anxiety medication by team doctors, which made the players uncomfortable.
“I recognize that medication may be worse for the player than smoking marijuana, even if marijuana isn’t great for you,” Silver said. “And I also recognize if they don’t want anti-anxiety medication, and they can’t smoke marijuana, they may drink more — which is perfectly legal. Obviously, you can overuse alcohol in our league, but we don’t have a prohibition on drinking and that might be much worse for them.”
Silver said based on where he is at, and how discussions have gone with the union, he’s now looking to the experts to inform the next move. Silver said marijuana usage isn’t something they need to be adversarial over, because it’s all about what is in the best interest of the players and the league.
Silver also said that as of now, penalties for players who test positive for marijuana are relatively light. “There’s no public disclosure of it. The team in the first instance isn’t even informed,” Silver said. “It’s a confidential program where the player talks to a drug counselor, and often that’s a trigger for a player to talk to a counselor about issues they’re having in their life.
Worried About the Kids
Beck told Silver he didn’t need to embrace the medical or any uses of marijuana to drop it from random drug testing and asked why the league had yet to do so. Silver replied he felt responsible for the enormous influence the league has on young people, both in this country and around the world.
“If the league makes an announcement around marijuana, people will take note of that,” Silver said. “So we have an obligation to the science, to make sure we understand it. I feel like we have an obligation to our players because if we don’t test for it it’s not quite an endorsement, but it’s a suggestion that we changed our position on it.”
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