Free Minds & Free Markets

As Marijuana Legalization Expands, the NFL Clings to Prohibition. For Now.

Marijuana is fully legal in 10 states, which are home to eight NFL teams (25 percent of the league), including the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots.

Anthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/NewscomAnthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/NewscomHalf the players taking to the gridiron on Sunday with a shot to play in this year's Super Bowl spent the current season in places where marijuana is legal—and, legal or not, weed use is widespread in the National Football League for both recreational and medicinal reasons.

But as the social stigma and legal prohibition of marijuana use is fading across America, the NFL remains stubbornly committed to keeping the substance outlawed.

For now.

Last month, NBC Sports' Mike Florio reported that team owners are increasingly interested in legalizaing weed, though it remains unlikely that the league will adjust its current policy before 2021 when the owners and the players' union are scheduled to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement.

"The NFL realizes that there's no longer any good reason to keep the best football players from playing football over marijuana," Florio wrote. "But the NFL isn't yet willing to make dramatic and wholesale changes to the marijuana testing policy because the NFL hopes to dangle the changes within the context of collective bargaining, securing a concession from the union in exchange for softening a policy that badly needs to be softened."

By then, America's most popular sport will have fallen even farther behind the country as a whole. When the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl in February 2014, they were the only two teams in the league hailing from states where weed was legal—a super bowl, indeed. Just five years later, there are 10 states where recreational marijuana is legal, and those states are home to eight NFL franchises (25 percent of the league), including the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, who will play in Sunday's conference title games.

While the NFL has never allowed players to use marijuana for any reason, there is a well-documented history of teams handing out pharmaceutical pain-killers by the handful. "The medicine being pumped into these guys is just killing people," former player Nate Jackson told Rolling Stone in 2016, as part of an excellent piece on the league's nonsensical marijuana rules and how they've led to an over-reliance on opioids.

No wonder so many players have opted to violate the league's marijuana ban. Last year, recently retired tight end Martellus Bennett estimated that nearly 90 percent of NFL players use marijuana at least occasionally as a treatment for football-related ailments.

"There are times of the year where your body just hurts so bad," Bennett said on a Bleacher Report podcast. "You don't want to be popping pills all the time. There are anti-inflammatory drugs you take so long that they start to eat at your liver, kidneys and things like that. A human made that. God made weed."

As Florio notes, most players—perhaps as many as 95 percent, he estimates—know how to beat the league's drug testing these days, so there is little reason for the players' union to make major concessions in order to get the league to legalize. Some owners, like the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones, have been pushing for the league to drop its prohibition on marijuana for a while. The rest will eventually come around to reality.

In the meantime, the NFL will continue looking like a reflection American society as a whole: a place where marijuana use for a wide variety of reasons is increasingly common and accepted, even if still technically against the law—and where enforcement of prohibition is increasingly viewed as either a joke or a vestige of flawed, outdated ways of thinking.

Photo Credit: Anthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/Newscom

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  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Me and the cast of 'Big-Assed Latinas Go Buckwild vol.17' did a whole Tony Montana's desk of cocaine on Gronk's yacht then left 47 crank messages on Tom Brady's voicemail and ordered $8000 worth of single use plastic straws to his house,

  • Mongo||

    For an extra kick, I tear the corner off of the plastic baggie with the pot dust in it and stuff the entire corner in my pipe and smoke it.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    The weed can protect you from any deleterious effects of the acrid polythene fumes.

  • Rich||

    enforcement of prohibition is increasingly viewed as either a joke or a vestige of flawed, outdated ways of thinking.

    Speaking of betting on sports, what's the over-under on the number of years until you can legally fire up a doobie on the steps of the Capitol?

  • BigT||

    You mean again?

  • Tul­pa||

    "A human made that. God made weed."

    God made botulism too, so that line of reasoning is pretty stupid.

  • Frank Thorn||

    NO. Humans, cannabis and the Clostridium botulinum bacteria share a common ancestor.

    Saying God 'made' anything [after the Big Bang*] is a pretty stupid line of 'reasoning'.

    *if you want to credit God for this I will need some proof.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Then we could go off in the weeds (!) and debate whether botulism spawning makes botulism, and if so, do not humans make laws, and are they not as natural as beaver dams or crow tools?

  • Jerryskids||

  • Don't look at me!||

    Pfft. Forget marijuana, Football would be better if all the players were hopped up on angel dust. That's where the action is.

  • Agammamon||

    Angel dust and pistols is what they need.

  • Don't look at me!||

    Well, maybe shivs.

  • perlchpr||

    I might watch football if there was mandatory PCP usage.

  • Agammamon||

    "The NFL realizes that there's no longer any good reason to keep the best football players from playing football over marijuana,"

    I don't know man, this seems as much a player thing as a management thing. I voluntarily gave up 'drugs' to work in the military and I earned a fraction of a pittance of the money a 12th string benchwarmer picks up in the NFL. Its a bullshit restriction but if you can't *live with it* . . .

  • damikesc||

    Yeah, employers are either allowed to determine their rules for employment or they are not. Reason needs to make up their mind on this.

  • BenjaminSmith||

    In General, this is a very important question. I understand the Association that they don't want to stir up that hornet's nest again. But nevertheless, 25% of teams are in the territory where marijuana is legalized and it can affect their game and motivation. On-site we have also raised this issue. Experts predict a little worse game from these teams. But I don't think it'll affect their mood much.


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