With the War on Drugs long over (did we win?), the NFL has begun to quietly realize the folly of its ongoing efforts to police the private lives and bodily fluids of players who may from time to time or more often than that enjoy the pungent fumes of a certain burning leaf. And the next Collective Bargaining Agreement likely will reflect that.
Per a league source, the NFL is prepared to make major concessions regarding the substance-abuse policy, especially as it relates to marijuana.
The details of the concessions aren’t known. A complete abandonment (and implicit legalization) of marijuana is possible, but if the league goes in that direction it would need to have a procedure in place for players who are charged criminally with marijuana-related offenses in the states where marijuana continues to be banned.
A delicate balance may be required. It the law of the land becomes “smoke at will as long as you’re in a weed-legal state,” plenty of free agents will flock to teams in states where it’s legal. So maybe the best approach would be to simply dump marijuana from the list of banned recreational drugs, and move on.
Really, who would complain if that’s what the league does? The NFL first adopted a program of testing players for drugs that have no bearing on their performance as a matter of P.R., back in the days when every third commercial on TV was the frying egg that supposedly mimicked the internal workings of your brain while “on drugs.” The world has changed dramatically as it relates to marijuana, and the NFL won’t have to worry about the anti-marijuana crowd boycotting games if/when players are allowed to do something that in many states where the league does business they are now legally entitled to do.
Already, the NFL’s relaxation of its anti-marijuana stance has become apparent. As it relates to players like Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, and Randy Gregory, the league has subtly but unmistakably been lenient in the application of the rules that apply after a reinstatement following a suspension for at least one year. Even though all three are currently suspended again, the league apparently gave them multiple chances post-reinstatement when the letter of the current policy contemplates a one-strike-and-back-out-the-door-for-at-least-another-year protocol.
So why not just dump the marijuana ban now? The problem is that the NFL can’t start abandoning its rights without a concession from the NFL Players Association, and the NFLPA will make no concessions when it comes to a once-per-year marijuana testing procedure that most players are able to navigate successfully. Thus, the best way to back off would be to pitch the cannabis issue into the broader stew of back-and-forthing that will happen in connection with full-blown CBA discussions.
Again, time will tell how far the league goes in loosening the current marijuana prohibition. But the league could be moving dramatically toward doing the right thing and getting out of the private lives of players as to matters that have no relevance to their employment.