NFL Players Union To Consider Cannabis

Could The NFL Be The First Sports Union To Okay Medical Marijuana?

In early January, former quarterback Jake Plummer sat side by side with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at Sports Authority Field in Denver to watch the Broncos defeat the Steelers in a divisional playoff game. The meeting was informal, with the real talking points — the ones that would be raised in the months ahead — put aside.

But only temporarily.

Plummer and many other active and retired players were in the beginning stages of building a campaign and raising money and awareness for cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive compound in cannabis that is believed to be a safer pain reliever for football players.

The Campaign Grows...

A year since its launch, the campaign and as well as others for cannabis allowance for NFL players, has gained steam. After Tuesday’s elections, marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in the states of 23 NFL teams.

But the NFL Players’ Association took notice long before. A few months ago it began to develop a pain management committee that will include active and former players as well as medical experts and researchers devoted to addressing chronic pain among players.

Assessing the potential of cannabis as an alternative pain reliever will be one aspect of the committee’s focus, but certainly not the only.

“The legalization, legislative track is not spurring any decision-making on our end related to how we’re approaching this issue,” said George Atallah, union’s assistant executive director of external affairs. “We have members who have told us that they are dealing with issues of chronic pain, not just during their careers, but post-careers, as well. We have much better injury data over the last couple of years since we moved to a new system, and that data has shown that while concussions have dominated the headlines, there are a lot of other issues that players deal with that we have to address".

Who Wants It?

The union could not release the full list of members or many specifics of the committee’s plan or tasks, but it did announce two of its members: former Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe and Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan. The pair, along with Plummer and other former players, have spearheaded the push for cannabis allowance in the NFL and have pressed the league and union to take a harder look at pain management among both former and current players.

Their pleas have been multi-pronged; while advocating for marijuana allowance, they have also spoken out about the dangers of opioid painkillers that are distributed by team trainers and physicians. Pills are more regulated in the NFL than they were in years past, but the exposure is a potential trigger for addiction when the nation is embroiled in an opioid epidemic.

Growing Acceptance

The rapidly changing legal landscape reflect a growing acceptance of marijuana nationwide. The NFL and NFLPA operate by the rules of their collective bargaining agreement, which runs through the 2020 season. But the drug policies were amended in 2014 and could be altered again, before the agreement expires.

Players are tested in the offseason for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, and face punishment if they test for higher than 35 nanograms of it per millileter of urine. There’s also the issue of marijuana still being illegal on a state level for nine NFL teams and a federally illegal substance; it is a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”

Atallah said, in the short term, the NFLPA’s committee will audit studies already available on marijuana and other issues tied to pain management and treatment. It will also turn to the many ongoing ones for data and information. Among them are the CBD studies through Colorado’s CW Hemp and its partnering nonprofit, Realm of Caring, as well a one with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to examining whole-plant cannabis in treating players.