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Possible NFL marijuana policy change? What Roger Goodell has to say about it

Goodell: 'Issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate'

February 2, 2017

HOUSTON — The league is listening. But it wants facetime.

The NFL Players’ Association recently announced its intent to propose to the league a “less punitive” approach to dealing with recreational marijuana use among players.

“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” union executive director DeMaurice Smith told The Washington Post.

Smith did not specify the changes in the NFLPA’s proposal, which was expected to be presented to the union’s board Tuesday and, if passed, sent to the league in order to try and collectively bargain a change to the drug policy.

“We certainly haven’t seen it or read it. I’ve spoken to (Smith) about it,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said here Wednesday. “But I think what it’s signaling from our standpoint is that the labor agreement we have has worked incredibly well for the players, for our clubs and for I think the game, in general. It’s encouraged investment. We see the salary cap, which may be projected to increase by $15 million a club. In the last four years alone, the salary cap has jumped almost $1.7 billion including benefits. That’s extraordinary and historically has never come close to being achieved before.

“So what we have is a labor agreement that’s working well for all parties, but we sent the union last spring a list of issues that we wanted to address as the league and as ownership. I expect, and we put on that list, the drug policy as one of those issues.”

The current collective bargaining agreement runs through 2020, but the league has pressed for an extension. During his interview with The Washington Post last week, Smith said no extension will be agreed upon until changes are made to the current deal.

Among those changes the NFLPA wants is a new drug policy.

Although marijuana is now legal for medical or recreational use in more than two dozen states, it remains a federally illegal substance.  Over the last year, many retired players, including a contingent of former Broncos, have pushed for the acceptance of marijuana and hemp extracts to treat pain from football-related injuries and, possibly, symptoms of concussions and brain injuries.

NFL players are subject to urine tests in the off-season and prohibited from having more than 35 nanograms per milliliter of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in marijuana that gets users high. The limit was last set in 2014, when the NFL and union agreed to change the substance abuse policy and raise the limit from 15 ng/mL of THC.

Players who test hot are entered into an intervention program. Additional violations can warrant fines and suspensions that range from two games to a full year.