Rutgers University Breaks NCAA Ranks With Progressive Cannabis Policy

New Jersey's Rutgers University is breaking ranks with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on cannabis. Last summer, RU quietly revamped their marijuana policy for school athletes. The new rules - which took effect on August 1, 2016 - separate cannabis from performance-enhancing substances and hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.  

Marijuana will remain a prohibited substance, but student athletes at Rutgers will receive lighter punishments for using it compared to taking PED's and hard drugs. The new policy was developed in collaboration with coaches, legal counsellors, medical personnel and administrators at RU.

"It balances our concerns for our student-athletes' well-being with our desire to provide rehabilitation where necessary, and sanction when appropriate, including expulsion from the team ultimately,'' Rutgers Athletic Director Pat Hobbs said. "In the end I think it's a fair policy."

Here's a breakdown of the new rules, which were obtained by New Jersey Advance Media through an Open Public Records Act request.

  • First-time offenders for PED's and hard drugs face a suspension between 0-10 percent of the season, but students who violate the school's cannabis ban won't receive any suspension for the first offence.
  • Second time offenders for PED's and hard drugs face a suspension of 10-25 percent of the season while two-time marijuana offenders will only be suspended for 0-10 percent of the season.
  • Third time offenders for PED's and hard drugs will be suspended for 30-100 percent of the season while three-time cannabis offenders face a suspension of 10-25 percent of the season.
  • Fourth time offenders for PED's and hard drugs will be dismissed from their teams, but four-time cannabis offenders will only face suspension of 30-100 percent of the season.
  • Fifth time cannabis offenders will be dismissed from their teams. 

Basically, Rutgers has added a buffer so that cannabis offenders get one pass before the punishments for breaking drug policies escalate. However, RU also allows coaches to impose their own punishments for drug violations.

"Head coaches also have the authority to institute their own rules, which may include more severe consequences for drug and alcohol use and violations than those in Rutgers' drug policy," according to Keith Sargeant of So a player could still get cut from their team after a fourth cannabis offence - or even sooner.

Athletes are also subject to random drug tests while participating in NCAA championships.  

But the NCAA might not be happy with the new rules. Last month, they accused Rutgers of committing seven infractions, which included failing to enforce drug policies properly. So it seems unlikely that the NCAA would be okay with RU giving first-time cannabis offenders a pass. Only time will tell if Rutgers is going rogue or becoming a bellwether for other American universities when it comes to cannabis policies. 

Banner image: Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Greg Lewis (35) puts up a shot around Temple's Dalton Pepper (32) on a fast break in an AAC basketball game January 28, 2014 in Philadelphia. (Aspen Photo's /


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