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If NCAA Can End Marijuana Ban, So Can The Federal Government, Congressman Says (Op-Ed)



“Perhaps this is the final stretch towards ending the failed war on drugs. If the NCAA is issuing a call for a reasonable, rational drug policy, can Congress be far behind?”

By Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports is recommending the removal of cannabis from its list of prohibited substances. Likewise, it says that drug testing for college athletes should be limited to performance-enhancing drugs, and that cannabis does not enhance performance.

This is one more signal that we are finally nearing the end of the failed “War on Drugs.” With college sports getting on board, is there hope for the Veterans Administration and the Department of Justice?

Fifty years ago, Oregon started a revolution becoming the first state to decriminalize cannabis possession. Since then, attitudes towards cannabis have changed from public skepticism and fear to surging popularity. Growing acknowledgement by medical professionals of marijuana’s usefulness to treat an array of conditions and diseases cannot be ignored.

Some of the most outspoken supporters of medical cannabis are retired professional athletes. Former football players have described how cannabis was one of the few remedies that help control the pain that resulted from the punishment inflicted on their bodies after years of training and games.

Slowly, surely, America is coming to its senses on over a century of misdirected efforts to demonize and regulate the use of cannabis.

The consequences go far beyond the plight of athletes. This failed prohibition effort has inflicted untold harm on people of color, particularly Black Americans. One million or more had their lives unnecessarily disrupted by the unequal application of cannabis prohibition. Selective enforcement fell much more heavily on people of color with devastating effects on individuals and communities.

A young person caught on the wrong side of the law faces lifelong implications for housing, education, employment and—of course—incarceration. All for a prohibition which never had any justification—in fact, it was never implemented with the same zeal against white and privileged young people. The consequences continue to linger.

Marijuana use is the number one cause of failed drug tests. This in turn has contributed to the shortage of drivers and railroad workers among some of the most obvious examples. This has real consequences for young people who would both like to work, and who are needed on the job.

The insanity even reached the White House, where young people qualified to work at the highest levels of government were tripped up over past cannabis use. This is ironic for an administration that won the heavily contested presidential election for Arizona largely because an overwhelmingly popular vote on cannabis legalization passed.

Had cannabis not been on the ballot, there is no doubt that young voters would not have come to the polls. But it was, and they did. By overwhelmingly supporting legalization these young voters provided the 30,000-vote margin for President Biden’s victory.

There have been other halting steps as states continue to reform their outdated, ineffective and unfair cannabis policies. There continues to be new products and uses developed for medical cannabis. State legal industry employment is approaching 500,000 Americans. Sales are in the tens of billions of dollars, generating millions of dollars of state and local taxes.

It was positive that the administration took a small but meaningful step to pardon federal offenders and clear their records. It is also looking at the descheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

There has been progress internationally as countries like Portugal and Netherlands look towards at an entirely different philosophy in managing controlled substances, including cannabis. Our neighbors in Latin America, Mexico and Canada have all moved towards legalization, illustrating how far out of step U.S. drug policy remains.

The House of Representatives has passed on seven different occasions legislation to enable state-legal cannabis companies to have banking services. This is critical to cut down the wave of violence and the unnecessarily stifling of legitimate businesses.

Perhaps this is the final stretch towards ending the failed war on drugs. If the NCAA is issuing a call for a reasonable, rational drug policy, can Congress be far behind? We can only hope and keep working to make the case.

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

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