The National Basketball Association (NBA) and its players union have officially signed a collective bargaining agreement that removes marijuana from the league’s banned substances list and lays out rules allowing players to invest in and promote cannabis brands—with certain exceptions.
About two months after NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) reached an agreement on the seven-year contract, it has now been signed and enters into force this weekend. The 676-page document contains a number of cannabis provisions—though arguably the most impactful is the removal of marijuana from the list of prohibited substances for players.
Players will also be allowed to “hold a direct or indirect ownership interest (whether controlling or non-controlling) in an entity that produces or sells CBD Products,” which is defined as cannabis containing up to 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, consistent with the federal definition of legal hemp.
They can also invest in marijuana companies, as long as the investment is passive and the player’s ownership is less than 50 percent of the business.
Another section of the collective bargaining agreement says that players “may participate in the promotion or endorsement of any brand, product, or service of an entity that produces or sells CBD Products, as long as the entity isn’t a marijuana company.
However, “a player may request permission from the NBA and the Players Association to promote or endorse any CBD Products that are produced or sold by a Marijuana Company.”
“Such request must be in writing and include (A) a complete list of the products that the Marijuana Company produces or sells, (B) a complete list of all ingredients of such products, (C) a description of the player’s proposed promotion or endorsement activity for the Marijuana Company’s CBD Products, and (D) a detailed summary of the non-financial terms of any proposed promotion or endorsement agreement between the player and the Marijuana Company. Unless a player’s request has been approved in writing by the NBA and the Players Association, the player may not promote or endorse any CBD Products that are produced or sold by a Marijuana Company.”
Requests for promotion will be denied if the CBD products associated with a marijuana business are “marketed or sold under a brand that also includes or refers to Marijuana Products” or if the promotion would create “a reasonable risk of public confusion with any Marijuana Product.”
NBA collective bargaining agreement signed.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) June 28, 2023
The signed agreement further lays out penalties for players who are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and for those who have “engaged in a felony involving the distribution of marijuana.”
It also generally puts cannabis use by players on par with that of alcohol, saying that if an NBA team has “reasonable cause to believe that the player was under the influence of marijuana and/or alcohol while engaged in activities for such Team or for the NBA, or that the player has a dependency or other related issue involving the use of marijuana and/or alcohol, the Team may refer the player to the Medical Director for a mandatory evaluation.”
“A player may seek assistance from the Medical Director at any time for dependency on or any other issue related to the use of marijuana or alcohol,” another section says.
Players who fail to comply with a mandatory alcohol or marijuana treatment program would also face disciplinary action, including a $5,000 fine per day of non-compliance. Fines and penalties would escalate for players who enter into the required treatment and exhibit a “pattern of behavior that demonstrates a mindful disregard for his treatment responsibilities” or “a positive test for marijuana and/or alcohol (as applicable) that is not clinically expected by the Medical Director.”
There will also be a voluntary treatment option for players who seek help related to the use of synthetic cannabinoids like delta-8 THC. Voluntary entry into the program would not result in any penalties. However, non-compliance after entering the program would come with penalties, including fines and possible suspensions.
The overall elimination of marijuana from NBA’s banned substances list formally codifies what has been the league’s decision to temporarily suspend cannabis testing for the past three seasons.
Marijuana icon and NBA commentator Snoop Dogg weighed in on the policy change in April, applauding the league for taking steps that would allow players to use cannabis for medical purposes, including as a potential opioid alternative.
Michele Roberts, a onetime head of the NBPA who also joined the board of the major cannabis company Cresco Labs in 2020, previously predicted that a formal change to codify the policy could come soon.
In 2021, it was announced that the online marijuana marketplace Weedmaps was teaming up with NBA star Kevin Durant for a multi-year partnership that’s aimed at destigmatizing cannabis and showcasing the plant’s potential value for “athlete wellness and recovery.”
A growing number of professional leagues have taken steps to enact marijuana policy reforms as more states have moved to legalize cannabis.
For example, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) committee focused on promoting health and wellness for student athletes has proposed to remove marijuana from the organization’s banned substances list.
Earlier this year, Nevada sports regulators voted to send a proposed regulatory amendment to the governor that would formally protect athletes from being penalized over using or possessing marijuana in compliance with state law.
UFC announced in 2021 that they would no longer be punishing fighters over positive marijuana tests.
The National Football League’s (NFL) drug testing policy changed demonstrably in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
NFL and its players union also announced this month that they are jointly awarding another round of funding to support independent research on the therapeutic benefits of CBD as a pain treatment alternative to opioids for players with concussions.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals recently formed a partnership with a cannabis brand to promote education about the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD—the second Major League Baseball (MLB) team to do so after the Chicago Cubs.
MLB itself announced its league-wide partnership with a popular CBD brand last year. Charlotte’s Web Holdings, one of the most recognizable hemp-derived CBD companies in the country, signed the deal with league to become the “Official CBD of MLB.”