NCAA Panel Recommends Removing Marijuana From Banned Substances List For College Athletes

June 20, 2023 ·

A National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) committee focused on promoting health and wellness for student athletes is proposing to remove marijuana from the organization’s banned substances list.

The NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) said the association will be soliciting input from members over the summer before potentially taking action in the fall.

In order to adopt the policy change, all three of NCAA’s divisional governing bodies will need to approve the proposal—though this most recent committee action was already spurred by a request from Divisions II and III to examine whether drug testing should be limited to performance-enhancing substances.

In the meantime, the panel will also seek approval from the Board of Governors to separately suspend THC testing for athletes during the NCAA championship as the broader reform is considered.

The committee said that it is recommending that cannabis be removed from the list of banned drugs in part because it does not consider marijuana to be a performance-enhancing substance, an issue that was discussed at the Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics in December.

Additionally, it said that the reform would be consistent with a “harm reduction philosophy for cannabis, similar to the approaches taken with alcohol,” and it would allow the organization to focus on addressing problematic cannabis use.

Enacting the policy change would also allow NCAA to prioritize education “on the health threats posed by contemporary cannabis and methods of use,” better positioning officials to identify and explain “relevant harm reduction/mitigation strategies to those student-athletes who choose to legally consume cannabis.”

“In addition to the policy and testing changes, CSMAS also signaled its support for the development of a comprehensive communication and education campaign that provides guidance to the membership about cannabis,” NCAA said in a press release on Friday.

Last year, the organization instituted a policy change that increased the THC threshold that constitutes a positive test for college athletes from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter, aligning the NCAA’s rules with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“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,” Brian Hainline NCAA’s chief medical officer, said at the time.

As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, sports organizations at multiple levels have worked to enact reform.

For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has removed drug testing requirements for THC, while allowing players to passively invest in the industry. It clarified in May that players will not be able to promote marijuana companies under its latest collective bargaining agreement, however.

Earlier this year, Nevada sports regulators voted to send a proposed regulatory amendment to the governor that would formally protect athletes from being penalized over using or possessing marijuana in compliance with state law.

UFC announced in 2021 that they would no longer be punishing fighters over positive marijuana tests.

The National Football League’s (NFL) drug testing policy changed demonstrably in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals recently formed a partnership with a cannabis brand to promote education about the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD—the second Major League Baseball (MLB) team to do so after the Chicago Cubs.

MLB itself announced its league-wide partnership with a popular CBD brand last year. Charlotte’s Web Holdings, one of the most recognizable hemp-derived CBD companies in the country, signed the deal with league to become the “Official CBD of MLB.” (Full Story)

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