The NCAA Is Quietly Softening Its Ban On Cannabis

Cannabis consumption continues to be heavily regulated in the world of professional sports. But, at the college level, things are changing.

In 2014, the NCAA reduced the penalties for testing positive for cannabis consumption from one year of probation to 6 months. That's a pretty big jump considering failing a random drug test in the NBA could cost a player their career. Now, the collegiate league is taking things a step further by recognizing that "marijuana has no performance-enhancing potential" in their Substance Abuse and Intervention tool kit.

On top of that, many NCAA member schools are screening cannabis separately from more serious drugs like steroids. And at schools like New Jersey's Rutgers University, an athlete can fail a cannabis test three times before facing suspension. 

Some think this change will eventually lead to schools phasing out cannabis screening altogether.

"I think in five years, [marijuana testing] is going to be gone," Texas-based attorney Christian Dennie told CBS Sports. Dennine has helped negotiate, challenge and write drug policy at professional and amateur levels.

Rutgers has been leading that trend in recent years by using counselling programs instead of penalties to help students who test positive for banned substances, according to Paul Perrier - RU's Compliance Director. Perrier says punishments often deter student athletes from getting the help they need to save their careers.

"Anything that deters a student from getting help, whether it's from drug use or alcohol, really isn't what our program is based around."

Many athletes have come out as advocates for medical marijuana in recent years too. People like former Colorado State running back Treyous Jerrells have argued that it is a safer alternative to the painkillers that are commonly prescribed for sports injuries.

"I practiced under the influence," Treyous confessed. "I played games under the influence. This is my medicine. I've seen players at CSU pop five, 10 ibuprofens before practice. Daily. You think that's good? Over the course of two, three years, that's eating your liver away. I'm not ashamed of what I did."

But policymakers should feel ashamed for denying that medicine to athletes for years due to outdated laws and stigmas surrounding cannabis.

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The fight to legalize cannabis nationwide should begin by helping veterans get access to medical marijuana, according to Massachusetts Representative - and 2020 presidential candidate - Seth Moulton (D). Right now, vets can't use medical marijuana without the risk of losing their Veteran's Affairs benefits, even if they live in a state that has legalized medicinal cannabis. In fact, so much as mentioning cannabis use to their doctor is enough for a vet to get their benefits stripped.

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