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NBA Ends Cannabis Ban for Players

NBA ends cannabis prohibition
PHOTO Sergey Nivens

Current Events

NBA Ends Cannabis Ban for Players

Professional basketball is ending its ban on cannabis, according to sources familiar with the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement between players and team owners.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) will end its blanket prohibition of cannabis for its athletes, according to the terms of a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with the players union revealed over the weekend. According to a report from The Athletic citing sources familiar with the agreement with the organization, the NBA will also stop testing players for cannabis use and remove marijuana from its list of banned substances, following the lead of other professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL). The deal, which was agreed to by negotiators for the league and the players union in late March, also allows players to invest in and promote regulated cannabis companies.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) announced early on April 1 that they had reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, which will go into effect for the 2023-24 season and last through the 2028-29 season, with an option for a one-year extension. The announcement didn’t include details on the terms of the agreement, which is subject to ratification by players and team governors. But sources familiar with the negotiations shared selected terms of the deal with Shams Charania of The Athletic, who posted on Twitter that “NBA players will no longer be prohibited for marijuana under the new seven-year” deal, adding that cannabis has “been removed from the anti-drug testing program, a process that began during 2019-20 season.”

The NBA’s previous policy on cannabis included a ban on the use of the drug by all players. Violations of the policy were addressed by entering players into the league’s counseling and treatment program on the first violation. Subsequent violations resulted in a fine of $25,000 for the second violation and a five-game suspension without pay for the third.

The NBA suspended testing players for cannabis as part of changes made following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In late 2020, league commissioner Adam Silver said that the moratorium would likely become permanent. Silver added that instead of a mandatory testing program for all players, the league would approach players who appear to be using cannabis problematically or because of dependency and decline to punish players who are “using marijuana casually.”

“We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now,” Silver told NBC in a statement quoted by Marijuana Moment. “I think society’s views around marijuana have changed to a certain extent.”

Professional Sports and Cannabis

The NBA’s decision to end the prohibition of cannabis for players follows similar action by the leading professional sports leagues in the US. The MLB removed cannabis from its list of banned substances in 2019, although the current policy allows players to be sanctioned if they appear to be under the influence of marijuana during games, practices or team meetings. The MLB took its evolution on cannabis further last year when it announced that teams would be permitted to enter into sponsorship deals with cannabis companies. Four months later, the league announced that products from Colorado-based Charlotte’s Web Holdings had been named the “Official CBD of MLB.”

“As a leader in the CBD category, with products that provide health and wellness benefits, Charlotte’s Web is a welcome addition to the MLB family, representing a landmark partnership in baseball and sports,” Noah Garden, MLB’s chief revenue officer, said in a press release from the league. “We’re excited about the possibilities this partnership offers as CBD becomes a more widely adopted part of the health and wellness regimen of our players and fans.”

The NHL also doesn’t list cannabis as a banned substance and players who test positive for the drug aren’t punished. Players who have “abnormally” high levels of THC detected during testing are offered admission to a voluntary treatment program. The National Football League’s collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-21 season relaxed the league’s policy on marijuana, allowing players to use cannabis during the off-season while maintaining prohibition throughout the season of play. The agreement also increased the level of THC that can be present in a player’s drug test before triggering sanctions from the league and ends game suspensions for all positive drug tests, with players facing fines instead.

Justin Kahn, CEO and co-founder of Reepher, a company that offers DUI coverage for cannabis consumers, praised the NBA’s decision to end its ban on cannabis for players.

“For too long, the NBA unnecessarily punished players for cannabis consumption,” he wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “The tentative agreement between the NBA and NBPA is a huge step forward in destigmatizing cannabis and will lead to other professional sports leagues adopting similar rules. Across the nation, employers should take note and revise their employment agreements similarly. It’s time that we destigmatize cannabis consumption as a nation.”

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