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NCAA Moves To Lower Marijuana Penalties For Student Athletes And Increase THC Threshold In Drug Tests

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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 being recommended by a key committee.

Additionally, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) said that, effective immediately, the THC threshold that constitutes a positive test is being increased from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter, aligning the organization’s policy with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Members have spent the last few months discussing potential changes to NCAA cannabis rules. And the decision to recommend greater leniency is consistent with conversations that have been ongoing in multiple professional sports leagues as more states move to enact legalization.

“Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use,” Brian Hainline NCAA’s chief medical officer, said in a press release.

“Marijuana is not considered a performance-enhancing substance, but it remains important for member schools to engage student-athletes regarding substance use prevention and provide management and support when appropriate,” he said.

While the committee’s eligibility recommendation is not binding, it urged each of the NCAA three divisions to adopt them into their respective bylaws.

For a first positive THC test, CSMAS said there should be no loss of eligibility as long as “the school provides a management plan and education for the student-athlete.”

The same goes for a second test, unless the athlete didn’t comply with the management plan, in which case the committee recommended a suspension from participation in 25 percent of regular season games. For a third violation, the recommendation is no loss of eligibility unless the athlete failed to comply with past management and education plans, and in that circumstance CSMAS says they should face a 50 percent regular season suspension.

By contrast, the current bylaws for Division I, II and III student athletes stipulate that a positive marijuana test immediately renders the player ineligible for 50 percent of the regular season. And for a second positive test, the athlete would be subject to the standard banned substances ineligibility bylaws, which means they would be suspended for an entire season.

“These adjustments to the NCAA drug testing program were approved after careful consideration and extensive discussion of the recommendations made by the Drug Testing Subcommittee, which has been meeting since last fall,” CSMAS Chair Stephanie Chu said. “The updated cannabis testing policies create a clear pathway for student-athletes to participate in education and management programs specific to their needs at the campus level.”

The conversation around drug testing and professional sports came to the fore last summer after U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the Olympics over a positive THC test. She admitted to using cannabis in a legal state after learning of her mother’s passing.

More recently, Richardson challenged the decision to allow a Russian skater to continue to participate in this month’s winter games despite the discovery that she’d tested positive for a banned performance enhancement drug.

The runner said last year 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, with the president suggesting that there’s a question about whether the marijuana ban should “remain the rules.”

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.

The NBA announced late last year that is extending its policy of not randomly drug testing players for marijuana through the 2021-2022 season. The association won’t be subjecting players to random drug testing for THC; however, they will continue to test “for cause” cases where players have histories of substance use.

In a similar vein, the MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Baseball players can consume marijuana without risk of discipline, but officials clarified last year that they can’t work while under the influence and can’t enter into sponsorship contracts with cannabis businesses, at least for the time being.

Marijuana icon Snoop Dogg, who was featured at the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday where an ad separate 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.

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