NFL players would not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana—under a collective bargaining agreement that has been approved by team owners and is now being voted on by members of the players union.
It was reported last month that the policy change would apply to cannabis but, according to the newly released full text of the agreement, it would actually cover all illicit substances. The decision reflects significant a shift in the league’s approach to drug use by players, with the agreement emphasizing the need to focus on “ensuring evaluation and treatment” rather than punishment.
If a majority of players—who have until 11:59 PM ET on Saturday to vote on the proposal—ultimately approve it, those who test positive for drugs, exhibit behaviors that indicate drug misuse or self-refer themselves will be required to enter an “intervention program” where they would receive an evaluation and treatment plan.
Testing positive for prohibited substances after that point would result in a half-week salary loss for first violations, a one-week salary loss for second violations, a two-week salary loss for third violations and a three-week salary loss for fourth and subsequent violations. The threat of suspensions would be removed.
That said, refusing to comply with any required testing or clinical care more than three times would result in game suspensions under the agreement. The suspension penalty could also still be used in instances of arrests related to drug offenses.
NFL team owners already voted to approve the broad collective bargaining agreement that the drug policy changes are part of last month.
“Substance abuse can lead to on-the-field injuries, to alienation of the fans, to diminished job performance, and to personal hardship,” the document, first reported by NBC Sports’s Pro Football Talk, states. “The deaths of several NFL Players have demonstrated the potentially tragic consequences of substance abuse. NFL Players should not by their conduct suggest that substance abuse is either acceptable or safe.”
As revealed in an earlier summary of the agreement, the testing window for marijuana would also be narrowed. Players would be subject to testing for THC metabolites only between the start of the pre-season training session and the first pre-season game. For other drugs, the testing period extends from April 20 to August 9.
The threshold for a positive test for cannabis would also be increased from the current 35 nanograms per milliliter to 150 nanograms per milliliter, according to the document.
Additionally, a joint committee focused on pain management would be required to study “alternative therapies, including marijuana and THC-based therapies” and issue recommendations on the issue. The panel previously conducted a fact-finding study on CBD and concluded earlier this year that the “hype” over the cannabis compound isn’t backed by science.
Under the new proposal, the committee would also be charged with educating players about “any side-effects, including addictive behavior and risks of marijuana use (e.g., schizophrenia).”
If a majority of the players union agrees to the proposed agreement by the deadline, that will give NFL the time in needs to implement the bargaining agreement ahead of the 2020-2021 season.
If the new agreement isn’t ratified by that time, players would undergo at least one additional season where testing positive for cannabis and other drugs can result in fines, suspension and rehabilitation. But if it is agreed to, NFL would become the latest major sports league to dramatically amend its drug policies.
The MLB announced in December that it will remove marijuana from its list of banned substances for baseball players, though the league clarified in a memo last month that baseball players are still barred from being sponsored by cannabis companies or investing in the industry.
After the MLB cannabis change was revealed, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said in interviews that the NFL would likely soon be forced to modernize its approach to marijuana.
Image element courtesy of Marco Verch.