A temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana may well become permanent, the league’s commissioner said this week.
“We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now,” Commissioner Adam Silver told NBC’s Today. “I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”
Rather than mandate blanket tests, he said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”
“I’d say the same thing about alcohol or any other substance,” Silver said.
He made similar remarks in a recent interview with The Sports Daily, stating that he’s “not sure whether marijuana should be treated differently than other substances, including alcohol, that are otherwise legal that players could be using and creating issues around.”
“I recognize that society’s views around marijuana use have changed dramatically since these rules were put in place, and in many ways the suspension of random testing this season is a recognition of that,” he said. “If our players are traveling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction—from jurisdictions that do not have prohibitions to jurisdictions where there’s still criminal penalties for possession and use of marijuana—we want to make sure we’re not creating a trap for our players and putting in place rules that will put them in the crosshairs of the law.”
“It doesn’t mean there isn’t still a concern from the league that marijuana, no different than alcohol, can be abused,” he added. “It’s something that we want to play close attention to, especially given the incredible stress that our players are often under, and particularly given the stress of playing in a pandemic.”
NBA initially announced a temporary suspension of cannabis drug testing earlier this year, as players finished out their season in the so-called “bubble” arena in Orlando. That was later extended to the entire 2020-2021 season following an agreement between the league and the players’ union
Michele Roberts, the head of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) who also joined the board of the major cannabis company Cresco Labs this year, predicted in a recent interview that a formal change to codify the policy indefinitely could come as early as “next season.”
While NBA won’t be subjecting players to random drug testing for THC, they will continue to test “for cause” cases where players have histories of substance use, for example.
If NBA does ultimately end marijuana testing, it would be another example of evolving drug policies within national sports leagues. Earlier this year, the MLB announced that players would not longer be tested for cannabis, though they’re barred from being sponsored by marijuana companies.
The NFL also made the decision to end suspensions for positive drug tests as well as limiting the testing window.