New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has apologized for making a "stupid mistake." But the NFL might be the one owing Jones an apology.
On Jan. 10, Jones checked into a hospital after taking an illegal drug. An unnamed source claimed that Jones had smoked "synthetic cannabis" (a.k.a. "spice" or "K2"), which isn't actually cannabis. It's dried plant matter that has been sprayed with chemicals that can replicate cannabis' calming effects, but they can also cause intense paranoia, hallucinations and confusion.
Later, ESPN analyst Cris Carter has speculated that Jones smoked marijuana laced with phencyclidine (a.k.a. PCP, "angel dust"), a hallucinogen that is often sprayed on plant matter (including cannabis) and smoked, which can induce psychosis, coma and other dangerous side effects.
Jones didn't clarify what substance caused the incident when he apologized for his actions:
"I want to apologize to all the fans," he told reporters on Jan. 14. "I made a stupid mistake."
The NFL is to blame for banning cannabis
But the Drug Policy Alliance - a national organization promoting evidence-based drug reforms in America - suggests that the NFL's ban on cannabis use is really to blame for the incident. In a recent DPA blog post, Kevin Franciotti notes that Jones may be one of many players using synthetic cannabinoids (at the risk of their adverse effects) in order to get around the league's drug testing policy:
"Few would choose this experience, but those at risk of getting drug tested, as Jones is, often seek out synthetic cannabinoids since they don't show up on tests."
And if that's the case, Jones is not alone. Franciotti writes,
"with an estimated 50-60% of NFL players regularly using marijuana, often for pain relief, Jones would certainly not be the only NFL player in this situation."
Marijuana is a more effective pain reliever
According to retired NFLer Nate Jackson, at least half the league medicates with cannabis because it's more effective than opiates and other legal drugs. In which case, Jones' mistake was really getting caught using alternative substances.
But if Jones did smoke cannabis laced with PCP, then the issue highlights the greater problem created by prohibition in America. Pro footballers living outside Washington and Colorado don't have access to legal, regulated cannabis in the United States. And without regulation, there is no way to ensure the safety, let alone the quality of the cannabis consumed by NFL players and Americans in general.
As Franciotti notes,
"Jones's experience shows that the NFL, just like broader society, must deal straightforwardly with marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids. If the NFL wants to avoid incidents like this in the future, Commissioner Roger Goodell should reconsider the policy on medical marijuana. It would be a mistake not to."