Doctors and Former Players Team Up to Change the NFL's Medical Marijuana Policy

Almost three years after former professional football player Eugene Monroe became the first to give up his NFL career in protest of the league's ban on medical marijuana, he is still pushing for things to change. But now, he has the medical community on his side.

Since his retirement from the NFL in 2016, Monroe has been calling on the league's top policymakers to allow active players access to medical marijuana. The NFL's current no-tolerance cannabis policy is hurting players, not helping them he says.

"This isn't a joke," Monroe—former offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens—told Yahoo Finance. "This is men's lives that you have decision to make a huge impact on. There are players suffering."

Professional athletes from all sports can expect to sustain at least a few injuries throughout their careers. Some of those will leave players with lifelong symptoms—and long-lasting dependencies to dangerous opioid painkillers, something football players are especially affected by.

"It's a well known fact that NFL players experience a high degree of pain," Monroe said. "We also see synonymous with that fact, a higher usage of opioid drugs."

These high use rates of opioids among professional football players (which at least one study suggested is four times higher than the American average) has seen a number of players join Monroe in the call for cannabis policy reform in the NFL. Most recently, former defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, David Irving, announced he too would be retiring from the sport in protest of the NFL's marijuana ban.

And it's not only other athletes who have joined the call for the NFL to embrace medical marijuana. Medical groups such as Doctors for Cannabis Regulation have also been quick to tell the league it's time for a change. David Nathan—a psychiatrist and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation founder—has accused the NFL of creating their own inaccurate evidence to support their medical marijuana ban.

"The NFL claims to be listening to its doctors but those same doctors are beholden to the NFL, and they know where their paycheck comes from," Nathan said. "The great majority of American physicians understand the medical use of cannabis, so the fact that they're saying their doctors recommend against it is either incorrect or the doctors are feeling some coercion."

Things may be changing soon, as the NFL is reportedly open to discussing updates to their drug policies during their upcoming 2021 collective bargaining agreement. However, Nathan says that's not the place to discuss medical matters, as using players' health as a bargaining chip is unethical.

"If you treat players' health and their use of cannabis as being a negotiating point, then what are you saying about if you're the commissioner or the owners?" asked Nathan. What are you saying about how you regard the lives of your players?"

"Players' health should never be negotiable."

Nathan and Monroe are, of course, right. The health and safety of athletes in all sports shouldn't be subject to outdated drug regulations that force patients to use harmful opioids when much safe medical marijuana medications are legal in most US jurisdictions.

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For cannabis enthusiasts living in adult use states, long gone are the days of sneaking around with a dime bag in a coat pocket and worrying about whether the neighbors know you’ve got weed. But the sad truth is that, for millions of Americans living in prohibition or restrictive medical-only states, accessing safe and regulated cannabis is still a problem. But does that mean that those living without access to the regulated market are abstaining from cannabis altogether?

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