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Forget the NFL, the NCAA’s Marijuana Policy Might Be Worse

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PHOTO Tammy Anthony Baker

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Forget the NFL, the NCAA’s Marijuana Policy Might Be Worse

The NCAA ruled that a Georgia high-school football star was preemptively banned from playing college football because he uses CBD oil for his seizures, revealing yet another flaw with marijuana policies in American sports.

Back in February, CJ Harris was good enough at football to play at an elite college. Harris didn’t get a scholarship to Auburn University, but after receiving word that he’d be welcome to campus as a “preferred walk-on,” he was near-guaranteed a spot on the team — and, possibly, the opportunity to play for a scholarship.

This was significant — both for Harris and for medical cannabis in Georgia, for which he served as a convenient and ideal poster child.

Seizures increasing in frequency had jeopardized Harris’s early athletics career until Georgia lawmakers legalized high CBD oil as a treatment. The drug worked, as it has for many others, and allowed Harris to play well enough for Warner Robins High School to get the friendly nod from Auburn.

Now it’s May, and Harris, who graduated from Warner Robins this week, is still good enough at football — but he won’t be playing at Auburn. Not Auburn, and not anywhere else.

According to a version of a story that’s been picked up by CNN, Harris was informed by Auburn coaches that the cannabis oil — his use of which had been publicized by a state lawmaker back in Georgia — means he’s ineligible to play college football.


The NCAA’s Marijuana Policy

According to WGXA, a CNN affiliate in Georgia, Harris’s father was informed by Auburn’s medical staff that his son’s cannabis-oil treatment renders him unable to play.

It’s unclear whether this was because of requisite drug tests. CBD oil has less than 0.3 percent THC, the threshold that determines whether the cannabis sativa plant qualifies as hemp or marijuana, in the eyes of the law. According to the most recent copy of the NCAA’s drug-testing guidelines, a positive drug test for cannabis is the presence of 15 nanograms of THC metabolites per milliliter of urine (15 ng/ml).

It doesn’t appear that Harris has been drug-tested, but this appears to be the NCAA’s logic: high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil — a neuroprotectant that preliminary studies have shown has value in treating brain injuries, which are health problems common to football players — is not appropriate for a football player to use.

“While the NCAA committee that oversees health and safety issues has discussed medical marijuana and CBD products at recent meetings, it has not recommended changes to NCAA policy,” NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford told the Ledger-Enquirer. “This means that THC is still classified as a banned drug for student-athletes.” And, thus, not an allowed medication for a college football player.

Harris stayed buoyant and positive, as befits a teenager who quotes the Bible on his Twitter page. He told reporters he’s looking for junior colleges or other programs outside of NCAA rules and left the chorus of outrage for others. Former NCAA coaches, epilepsy advocacy groups, and others have all blasted Harris’s reversal of fortune.

The Confusion Around CJ Harris’s Case

On Wednesday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn added more confusion to the matter by claiming that Harris’s eligible-ineligible progression had nothing to do with marijuana, but that he simply “wasn’t cleared by our medical staff,” according to the Ledger-Inquirer.

“It didn’t have anything to do with anything else like some people reported,” added Malzhan, who didn’t offer a specific counter-narrative.

Something doesn’t quite add up. When reached by TMZ, Curtis Harris, CJ’s father, didn’t specify the exact reason why Auburn changed their minds. But, luckily for our purposes, the NCAA’s intractability makes for a convenient villain. Despite reports of upwards of 60 percent of student-athletes smoking cannabis on their off-hours, something being upfront and honest about their medical marijuana use is an easy mark.

Auburn still has to fully explain its decision, and Curtis Harris’s sudden taciturn turn in his TMZ interview begs further questions.

But the message is clear: if you’re an “out” medical-marijuana patient, you can forget about the NCAA. This will just mean fewer athletes willing to go public — and, possibly, a few more willing to further sacrifice their health to help the NCAA bank $1.1 billion a year.

TELL US, do you think football players should be able to take cannabis oil?

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