NBA Will Not Be Testing for Marijuana in 20-21 Season

For professional athletes, performance-enhancing drugs are understandably banned, but with the potential benefits of cannabis (and lack of a serious downside), it seems silly to ban it as well. Thankfully, the NBA is starting to rethink its position of banning cannabis use among its players. As the most recent season moved forward, suspension of anti-cannabis policies was enacted and going forward that suspension may turn into a complete reversal.

From how this will affect public perception of cannabis in general to how it could affect other sports, let’s take a closer look at what the NBA allowing marijuana means.

Why change their minds now?

The NBA’s statement on why they suspended drug testing or at the very least, marijuana screening was largely due to the pandemic. It makes no sense for players to get largely pointless screenings and exposing themselves to infection during COVID-19s spread, so the policy was suspended. This choice, however, did bring the topic to further discussion among those who make policy for the NBA, allowing them to examine if it made sense to continue with the ban.

Michele Roberts, head of the NBPA and cannabis advocate, has stated that, in addition to not needing to expose players to unnecessary risks, they “simply don’t need to know if their players are using cannabis”. Ultimately, she’s correct – cannabis will not improve their performance like steroids would, and unless it’s making them play poorly, has no downside. 

Racial bias considerations

The illegality of cannabis has a history of anti-black sentiment and marijuana stigma, and with the racially charged climate of the NBA, now is a great time to consider why cannabis is banned. Additionally, anti-cannabis laws disproportionately affect black men compared to the rest of the population. With the focus on racial tension that has been focused on in the NBA, cannabis reform naturally is part of that discussion. As more players speak out against inequalities in our society that affect black men and women, you can expect these drug-policy implications to spill over into general policy and broader discussion.

Professional basketball is one of the most popular sports in America, and if their attitudes about race and cannabis are evolving and up for debate, so to will you see this reflected in general society.

Performance-enhancing drugs and blanket bans

Because of the concern that players would use steroids and other drugs designed to improve their strength and stamina, cannabis was also swept up in the ban (and also due to its federal illegality). However, as more states legalize recreational cannabis, the NBA had not allowed for this relaxation of drug policy to impact their own inner rules. 

It’s understandable that steroids will continue to be banned – they give players an unfair advantage. Recreational cannabis, however, can be compared to alcohol and it’s definitely not banned. Times are changing and it’s more than appropriate that cannabis be separated from performance-enhancing drugs in NBA policy.

Professional athletes and cannabis

Cannabis is widely popular, and without a doubt, other professional athletes would (and are) using cannabis. From baseball to hockey and football, cannabis use is probably as prevalent as drinking alcohol as a way to relax and enjoy nights off. 

What is important here is the way that the NBPA is allowing for cannabis – Michele Roberts is stating that “we don’t need to know” if they’re using it. It’s not just a necessity because of COVID; it’s a non-issue. This sets a precedent where players in other sports can state the same thing and it’s a great thing for widescale legalization and the wider drug debate. 

It’s nobody’s business if you use a safe and legal plant for recreational or medical purposes, and it shouldn’t be treated any different than alcohol use. This is a big deal and will almost certainly spill over into other professional sports within the next few years.

Cannabis products for a modern age

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