For the third season in a row, the National Basketball Association (NBA) will reportedly not be randomly testing players for marijuana—a policy that insiders expect could become permanent.
Players can still be screened for probable cause during the 2022-2023 season, but sports journalist Ben Dowsett said league sources told him random testing for cannabis will continue to be suspended, as it was for the first time in the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver signaled in late 2020 that the policy could eventually become codified after the league initially suspended cannabis testing when players competed in a quarantined “bubble” in Orlando earlier that year.
“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,” he said at the time. “I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”
Rather than mandate blanket tests, the commissioner said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”
Now, Dowsett says after talking to his sources he expects “a permanent removal of random marijuana testing to be a topic during upcoming [collective bargaining agreement] negotiations” between the league and its players association.
This is the third straight season where the NBA and NBPA have agreed to suspend random marijuana testing – after it was first paused in the Disney bubble.
Expect a permanent removal of random marijuana testing to be a topic during upcoming CBA negotiations. https://t.co/P44lUenkSP
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) October 18, 2022
The journalist was previously the first to report the extension of NBA’s no-cannabis-testing policy for the 2020-2021 season.
That was later extended again to the 2021-2022 season.
Michele Roberts, a onetime head of the National Basketball Players Association (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 indefinitely could come soon, though that hasn’t yet come to fruition.
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.
Last year, it was announced that the online marijuana marketplace Weedmaps is 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.”
This latest action from NBA comes on the heels of a national discussion about cannabis testing policies for athletes—an issue that made international headlines last year following the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson from participating in the Olympics over a positive THC test.
The runner said that she’d feel “blessed and proud” if the attention her case raised would affect a policy change for other athletes. Even the White House and President Joe Biden himself weighed in on the case, suggesting that there’s a question about whether the marijuana ban should “remain the rules.”
However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently decided to keep marijuana on the list of banned substances for international athletes following a scientific review and a determination that cannabis use “violates the spirit of sport.”
MLB, one of the most progressive professional sports leagues when it comes to cannabis policy, recently signed a CBD company to serve as the league’s first-ever cannabis sponsor—with plans to promote the business at the upcoming World Series.
The decision came about four months after it was reported that MLB started allowing baseball teams in the league to sell sponsorships to cannabis companies that market CBD products, as long as they meet certain criteria.
MLB has stood out among other professional sports leagues as more willing to respond to the changing marijuana policy landscape. For example, it clarified in a memo in 2020 that players will not be punished for using cannabis while they aren’t working, but they can’t be personally sponsored by a marijuana company or hold investments in the industry.
The league also said at the time that it was teaming with NSF International to analyze and certify legal, contaminant-free CBD products in order to allow teams to store them on club premises. It’s unclear if this latest development is directly related to that collaboration.
The update built upon MLB’s decision in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Before that rule change, players who tested positive for THC were referred to mandatory treatment, and failure to comply carried a fine of up to $35,000. That penalty is now gone.
A number of athletic governance bodies have recently relaxed rules around cannabinoids as laws change and medical applications become more widely accepted.
UFC announced last year that they would no longer be punishing fighters over positive marijuana tests, MMA Fighting reported.
“There’s opportunity across sports,” UFC SVP/Global Partnerships Paul Asencio told SBJ. “I don’t think every team will have a ([CBD] partner, but probably every league will. It’s just a really good connection and marketing platform, because professional athletes are using these products and will continue to.”
Separately, students athletes that are part of the NCAA would no longer automatically lose their eligibility to play following a positive marijuana test under rules that are were recommended by a key committee earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the NFL’s drug testing policy already changed demonstrably in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
NFL players no longer face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana—under a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, they will face a fine. The threshold for what constitutes a positive THC test was also increased under the deal.
Marijuana icon Snoop Dogg, who was featured at the Super Bowl halftime show this year where an ad separately aired that indirectly supported legalization, argued that sports leagues need to stop testing players for marijuana and allow to them to use it as an alternative to prescription opioids.