The latest campaign from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that promotes marijuana policy reform and legalization, focuses on the National Football League and its policy of fining and suspending players who test positive for marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project argues pot use is safer than alcohol use, which the league doesn't punish, and that last week's announcement by the Justice Department not challenging state laws legalizing marijuana should serve as an impetus for the NFL to also "respect those laws." Two NFL franchises are based in states that have legalized marijuana, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, but last November the NFL stressed changes in those state laws would not affect NFL policy.
In a petition the Marijuana Policy Project is directing to the NFL and asking people to sign on to, it writes:
Please change the NFL's marijuana policy so that players are no longer punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol if that is what they prefer. Now that the U.S. Justice Department has announced that states are allowed to legalize marijuana for adults or for medical use, the NFL should also recognize and respect those laws.
The league would never punish a player simply for having a beer or cocktail, so why does it levy severe penalties against them for using a product that is less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violence? The NFL's harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players. If anything, they put them in danger by steering them toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana instead.
More than 60 players have been suspended for violating the NFL's "substance policy" since Roger Goodell became the NFL commissioner and the league began to crackdown on substance use. The Marijuana Policy Project's campaign also includes a billboard outside the Broncos' stadium in Denver that declares "a safer choice is now legal (here)" and calling on the NFL to "stop driving players to drink."
Perhaps one of the most prominent targets of the NFL's anti-marijuana policy was Ricky Williams, who was suspended multiple times in his career for pot use, even choosing to leave the league instead of facing a third suspension. In the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on his life, Williams says he believed his decision to leave football (though he ultimately returned) saved his life, and that he used marijuana as a form of "psychotherapy" ten times more effective than the Paxil he was prescribed.