NBA Releases Details on New Cannabis Policy

May 11, 2023 ·

The National Basketball Association has confirmed reports that it will permanently end its ban on cannabis, but refuted claims that players would be allowed to promote marijuana brands. 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) last week clarified its new cannabis policy for players, confirming earlier reports that the league will no longer test players for THC. But the NBA also refuted leaks about its new collective bargaining with the players union that reported that the league’s athletes would be permitted to promote licensed marijuana companies. The new agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association also allows players to invest in cannabis companies, although they will not be allowed to take an active role in the management of cannabis enterprises. 

Last month, the online sports news site The Athletic reported that the NBA would end its total ban on cannabis for players, citing sources familiar with the negotiations. According to the report, the league would stop testing players for cannabis, which would be removed from the league’s list of banned substances. The new contract, which was agreed to by negotiators for the league and the players union in late March, would also reportedly permit players to invest in and promote regulated cannabis companies. 

The league and the players union announced on April 26 that they had ratified the new contract agreement, which will go into effect on July 1 for the 2023-24 season and last through the 2029-30 season. But according to a “Key Deal Points” summary document of the agreement first reported by SFGATE, the deal does not include provisions to allow players to actively invest in or promote cannabis companies. A source familiar with the deal told the online news source that under the agreement, players would be barred from putting their names on their own cannabis brands. Players will, however, be permitted to promote brands offering hemp-derived CBD products. The summary of the labor agreement states that although players “may promote a company that makes products containing CBD,” they will “continue to be prohibited from promoting marijuana companies,” according to a report.

Jesse Burns, the chief marketing officer of the public relations firm Grasslands, says that the new rules could make NBA athletes the face of the CBD movement, adding that players have an opportunity to “really leverage this moment of health and wellness” by launching their own CBD brands. 

“There’s this general knowledge that CBD is medicine and pain relief and inflammation relief,” Burns said. “The mainstream public is starting to get that.”

Cannabis Removed from NBA’s List of Banned Substances 

The summary confirms the earlier reports that the NBA is ending its prohibition on cannabis use, noting that “Marijuana will be removed from the Prohibited Substances List.” However, the memo clarifies that a “team that has reason to believe one of its players is under the influence of marijuana while engaged in NBA or team-related activities, or has a dependency issue involving marijuana, may refer the player to a treatment program.”

Additionally, players who are high on marijuana while at games, practices or other official team functions are subject to disciplinary action. “The NBA and teams may impose reasonable discipline on players who are under the influence while engaged in any team activity or in violation of the law,” the memo reads. 

The NBA’s previous policy on cannabis included a ban on the use of marijuana by all league players. Violations of the policy were addressed by entering players into the league’s counseling and treatment program on the first violation. Subsequent violations resulted in a fine of $25,000 for the second violation and a five-game suspension without pay for the third.  

The league suspended testing players for cannabis as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in late 2020, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the moratorium would likely become permanent. Silver added that instead of a mandatory testing program for all players, the league would approach players who appear to be using cannabis problematically or because of dependency and decline to punish players who are “using marijuana casually.” 

Professional Sports and Cannabis 

The NBA’s end of its prohibition of cannabis for players follows similar action by top American professional sports leagues. In 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) removed cannabis from its list of banned substances, although the current policy allows players to be disciplined if they appear to be under the influence of cannabis during games, practices or team meetings.

The MLB’s cannabis policy evolved even further last year when the league announced that teams would be permitted to enter sponsorship deals with cannabis companies. Four months later, the league announced that products from Colorado-based Charlotte’s Web Holdings had been named the “Official CBD of MLB.” 

The National Hockey League (NHL) also doesn’t list cannabis as a banned substance and players who test positive for the drug don’t face disciplinary action. Players who have “abnormally” high levels of THC detected during testing are referred to a voluntary treatment program.

The National Football League (NFL)’s collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-21 season relaxed the league’s policy on cannabis, allowing players to use marijuana during the off-season while maintaining prohibition throughout the season of play. The agreement also increased the level of THC that can be present in a player’s drug test before triggering sanctions from the league and ends game suspensions for all positive drug tests, with players facing fines instead. (Full Story)

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