Mar 4, 2020 - Sports

Major sports leagues are easing up on marijuana

Illustration of a silhouette of someone smoking weed

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With public support for marijuana legalization at an all-time high, and more athletes using cannabis to treat pain, the four major U.S. sports leagues are reducing restrictions and punishments — though the NBA lags behind the other three.

By the numbers: Recreational marijuana use is legal in 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is permitted in 33. 101 0f the 123 teams (82.1%) across the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL play in those states.

The holdouts: Only 22 teams are located in states where neither type of usage is legal, and over a third of them (8) are in Texas.

  • Texas: Astros, Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers, Rockets, Stars, Spurs, Texans
  • North Carolina: Hornets, Hurricanes, Panthers
  • Tennessee: Grizzlies, Predators, Titans
  • Georgia: Braves, Falcons, Hawks
  • Indiana: Colts, Pacers
  • Wisconsin: Brewers, Bucks, Packers

League policies:

  • NHL: While the NHL tests for cannabis, there is no punishment for positives. If a player has "abnormally high levels" of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, it's treated as a matter of health care (as alcoholism would be).
  • MLB: In December, MLB removed marijuana from its list of banned substances and now treats it the same as alcohol. Players do, however, remain subject to discipline for using or possessing the drug, and the league sent a memo to teams last week warning them not to show up to the ballpark high.
  • NFL: The proposed CBA, which players will vote on soon, would dramatically reduce the testing window from nearly four months to two weeks, raise the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminate suspensions for positive tests. Overall, the new policy would "increase emphasis on clinical care over punishment."
  • NBA: Marijuana remains on the NBA's list of banned substances, and players are subject to four random tests during the regular season, with punishment escalating from entering a drug program (first positive test) to a $25,000 fine (second) to a five-game suspension (third) to a 10-game suspension (fourth).

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