The National Basketball Association (NBA) has recently made a groundbreaking decision that could change the way professional sports leagues approach marijuana use. According to reports, the NBA is removing marijuana from its list of banned substances and will no longer be drug testing players for it as part of a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement.
First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, formalizes what has been the league’s decision to temporarily suspend cannabis testing for the past three seasons. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver signaled in late 2020 that the policy could eventually become permanent after the league initially suspended cannabis testing when players competed in a quarantined “bubble” in Orlando at the start of the coronavirus pandemic earlier that year.
This decision is a significant step forward for professional sports leagues and their approach to marijuana use. Rather than mandating blanket tests, the NBA will be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.” This approach represents a shift away from punitive measures and towards a more compassionate approach that focuses on the well-being of players.
“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. I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
The NBA’s decision to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances comes as the national discussion about cannabis testing policies for athletes continues to unfold—an issue that made international headlines following the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson from participating in the Olympics over a positive THC test. Even the White House and President Joe Biden himself weighed in on the case, suggesting that there’s a question about whether the marijuana ban should “remain the rules.”
While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decided last year to keep marijuana on the list of banned substances for international athletes following a scientific review and a determination that cannabis use “violates the spirit of sport,” other professional sports leagues have taken a more progressive approach to marijuana policy. For example, MLB recently signed a CBD company to serve as the league’s first-ever cannabis sponsor—with plans to promote the business at the upcoming World Series.
The NBA’s decision to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances is a step towards a more progressive and compassionate approach to drug policy in professional sports. It represents a shift away from punitive measures and towards a more nuanced approach that recognizes the complex nature of drug use and addiction. As other professional sports leagues begin to follow suit, we can hope that this signals a broader shift towards more compassionate and progressive drug policies across all levels of society.