The NBA and Cannabis: Not a Slam Dunk

The NBA, like other professional sports leagues, remains anti-marijuana despite the country’s changing outlook on cannabis. But, while they continue to reserve the right to test players, it’s not exactly a clean block. Simply, their marijuana policy isn’t overly strict and that’s not going to change. If anything, it’ll probably become more liberal.

In fact, three years ago – years before several more states legalized recreational weed – Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA and of no relation to Beverly Hills 90210 character David Silver, told GQ Magazine,

“We’re much more concerned about HGH testing and designer performance-enhancing drugs

This is a policy matter and it’s our strong preference that out players do not consume marijuana. We believe it will affect their performance on the court. That said, marijuana testing is something that’s collectively bargained with the player’s association, and we adjust to the times.”

Why HGH is The Priority

Recent evidence suggests that certain cannabis strains may enhance athletic performance to a degree, but it’s not considered a “performance enhancing drug.” Besides, lots of things enhance athletic performance, from the right foods to caffeine, from good shoes to a good night of sleep.

This is why cannabis isn’t at the top of the NBA’s list; it’s more likely to cause a player to ask for a bite of a spectator’s pizza than it is to give him some superhuman advantage over his pot-free peons. It’s also why weed will never rival HGH in terms of priority.

HGH is a growth hormone naturally produced by the pituitary gland; it’s responsible for cell growth and regeneration and helps maintain the health of human tissue. While it protects the organs and the brains, athletes use synthetic HGH to increase muscle mass, something that provides an edge in any activity that involves strength and endurance.

A basketball player taking HGH will improve their game, tipping the scales of unfairness and turning the sport into one that’s not based on skill and talent, but prescriptions

HGH isn’t the only drug that provides an edge; the NBA bans a whole slug of drugs that fall into this category. Some are overtly performance-enhancing (like steroids) while others are used to treat specific maladies and, inadvertently, provide the user with benefit.Chicago bulls and cannabis, NBA and weed

Pentetrazol, for example, is used in Italy as a cough suppressant; it makes the list because of its stimulant effects. Furosemide – a diuretic prescribed to people with heart failure – makes the list because it can be used as a masking agent. And Tamoxifen, a drug usually given to women (it treats and prevents breast cancer) is prohibited because it can increase the level of testosterone in the body.

This can get tricky when players have something wrong with them – especially colds as many cold medicines harbor stimulants – but players are expected to avoid use. Even accidental use leads to punishment.

NBA Coach Steve Kerr and Marijuana

Steve Kerr, the Chicago Bulls player turned Golden State Warriors coach, went on record saying he’d tried medical marijuana to deal with chronic back pain. Of course, some press outlets ran with this, declaring Kerr a pothead and all but suggesting that he’d soon require each of his players to grow out their hair, wear tie-dyed uniforms, and play not in high tops, but Birkenstocks.

Back in reality, Kerr stated that he tried medicinal cannabis and it didn’t work for him. Yet, the science behind it was enough to give it a shot. He also states that medical weed, as a whole, “makes a lot of sense.”

According to NBA.com, Kerr compared cannabis to the many prescription drugs whose adds fill the airwaves. He was quoted as saying,

“I’m always struck every time I’m home on the couch watching a sporting event, some drug commercial comes on, they show these happy people jumping in a lake, rowing a boat, then you just wait for the qualifier.”

He’s right: we’ve each seen them – the commercials that list wonderful benefits before the possible side effects: This drug may cause sudden death. If you have died suddenly, please contact your doctor.

Marijuana is a safer alternative and that – for Kerr and so many others – gives flower power the benefit of the doubt.

Stephen Jackson and Recreational Weed

Kerr isn’t the only NBA-affiliated person who’s admittingly tried weed. Another is Stephen Jackson, the former player who recently discussed his use of recreational weed.

Per the Bleacher Report, Jackson, who played for several teams in his career, revealed in a podcast that he’d played several games under the influence of cannabis. The outcomes were bathed in inconsistency: when getting an assist from Mary Jane, he had great games and not-so-great games.

Jackson and Kerr are definitely not the only players or coaches who smoke; marijuana is popular and basketball players, like accountants and doctors, lawyers and judges and (insert career here), are going to imbibe. And most are going to do it without getting caught.

This is because NBA players can only be randomly tested four times during the season and twice in the offseason. Because marijuana doesn’t stay in the system as long as every job seeker fears, players who don’t use chronically are more likely to test negative than positive. Besides, as mentioned above, cannabis isn’t a priority;

Just because the NBA is allowed to test as many as six times a year, that doesn’t mean they do

The NFL testing policy is even easier to beat, but only until you get caught. According to NJ.com, NFL players can only be tested during the offseason. The testing period starts on April 20 (an apt starting date) and ends on August 9th. There are a few exceptions, however. Players signed after the testing period ends may still be subject to testing and rookies and newly-signed free agents may be asked to submit a pre-employment screen.

Denver, Broncos, professional sports and weed, NBA and weedBut it’s once these tests are failed that the NFL’s policy grows more serious. Players placed in the substance-abuse program can be tested at any time. And this isn’t limited to cannabis: lest we all forget that former Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater was suspended four games for drinking beer (he was in the alcohol abuse program for a DUI received in 2011).

Zone Defense

The NBA will continue to play zone defense against cannabis – at least on the surface – for as long as they desire. But the times are changing and – as Adam Silver stated above – this is a league that adjusts.

So, what is the NBA waiting for? Adjust already.

The NBA and Cannabis: Not a Slam Dunk was last modified: by
Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.