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With NFL’s Acceptance of Cannabis, More Gray Areas in Sports

16 Mar, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

First, it was Major League Baseball who took cannabis off the list of prohibited substances. Now, the NFL is following suit.

The new provision was sandwiched into football’s collective bargaining agreement that is expected to remain in place through 2030. Essentially, it noted that players will no longer be suspended for positive marijuana tests.

Yahoo! Sports noted, “This is a win for NFL players, many of whom would clearly prefer to treat their aches and pains with marijuana instead of painkillers.”

Over the last few years, cannabis has been moving into the mainstream, with an increasing number of states legalizing its use for medical and/or recreation purposes, and multiple sports events and organizations forming alliances with various brands. The awareness of the dangers of opioids has driven legalization efforts in many states.

The question, of course, becomes whether more pro leagues will allow it – by the way, the NHL does not have cannabis on its list of prohibited substances – and whether such use will filter down into lower levels of play.

Already, sports event owners are working to navigate the new landscape. Some have found ways to work with it, including the first cannabis-friendly golf course in North America (Rolling Greens!) and a multi-sport event that is all about cannabis, The Civilized Games (formerly known as the 4:20 Games).

Planners of sports events who seek to create their own limitations will have a hard time finding one particular ruling, and some groups, even at high levels, have lax standards. Winter Olympic athletes, for example, are all but given a free pass for smoking marijuana while out of competition. And the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013 increased the threshold for a positive marijuana test tenfold.

Another aspect that comes into play is the sponsorship of events, as well as event owners, by cannabis brands – something that might have been inconceivable even a decade ago. However, as the economy has changed, and as funding for sponsorships from traditional sources has dried up, event owners have become more creative, and increasingly more flexible, in their arrangements. Case in point: in 2019, USA Triathlon announced a partnership with PURE Spectrum, a CBD product used by athletes for post-workout recovery purposes. The agreement, good through 2023, was groundbreaking, in that it involved the first U.S. NGB in the Olympic and Paralympic movement to partner with a CBD product.

And marijuana tourism is increasing. CannaCamp, an all-inclusive bud-and-breakfast property in Durango, Colorado, bills itself as a "170-acre slice of heaven, where recreational marijuana and our traditional Colorado ranch create an unprecedented opportunity for cannabis users to experience the outdoors in a safe environment," according to its website.

Resorts in Aspen, Colorado, acknowledged in an online edition of the Aspen Daily News that marijuana use was going to be a challenging subject for them. Existing rules don’t allow smoking of any kind in guest rooms; therefore, the idea of a ‘pot lounge’ might come into play. But resorts that feature this amenity might not be as marketable to youth sports teams, teams in faith-based conferences – or perhaps to any sports event where planners wish to lower, as much as possible, the risk of exposing athletes to drugs.

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