Aaron Hernandez is an accused murderer, which makes the accusation that he was also a habitual marijuana smoker seem so trivial that it’s barely worth mentioning. But the testimony in Hernandez’s murder trial indicates that Hernandez was a regular pot smoker, and that he managed to smoke pot throughout his NFL career without ever failing an NFL drug test. And that raises a question: How did Hernandez beat the tests?
The answer is, fairly easily.
The NFL’s drug-testing program is really two programs: There’s the program for testing for substances of abuse and the program for testing for performance-enhancing drugs. The PED testing is stringent: Players are subject to unannounced testing all year long, and most players are tested several times over the course of a year. If you’re using PEDs in the NFL and you’re not getting caught, you have to be doing something pretty sophisticated to beat the tests.
But most players are only tested for substances of abuse once a year, before the season starts, and they knew the approximate time of their testing. As a source who was formerly affiliated with the NFL’s testing program told Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Hernandez probably just stopped smoking pot when the testing was coming and then started up again as soon as he had submitted a sample.
“The most logical conclusion is he stopped smoking in June, passed his test in July, then smoked all he wanted for 11 months of the year,” the source said.
In other words, Hernandez knew that it’s easy to beat the NFL’s tests for substances of abuse: Stop using in time for drugs to clear your system, pass your one annual test, then start using again as soon as you’ve submitted your clean sample. Then you’re good to go until the next year, when you’ll have to get clean again, briefly, just until you’ve submitted your annual clean sample. The only exception is that players who are in the substance-abuse program are subject to additional testing. But Hernandez was able to avoid detection well enough to keep himself out of the program.
The NFL probably only tested Hernandez for marijuana four times: Once at the Combine before he was drafted and once during each of the three offseasons of his NFL career. Hernandez admitted before he was drafted that he had used marijuana while playing at Florida, but if he passed all of those NFL-mandated tests, he was free to smoke all he wanted the rest of the time, as long as he could get it out of his system in time to beat the next year’s test. Hernandez was probably tested for PEDs many times during his career, and those samples probably would have come up positive for marijuana if they had been tested for marijuana, but the PED test is separate from the marijuana test.
So if you’re an NFL player using recreational drugs, beating tests is easy, as long as you’re able to stop long enough to get the drugs out of your system. The policy is designed to catch those who have a drug problem so serious that they can’t or won’t stop even when they know the test is coming. Everyone else is free to use for most of the year.