Testing positive for marijuana and players getting in legal trouble because of it has long been an issue for the NFL. With a renegotiation of the current drug policy being discussed by the league and the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) the penalties for marijuana are heading towards being lessened, along with the concentration in a test being significant raised to make it positive result. ESPN earlier reported that the deal was done and agreed upon, but now an agreement may be reliant on the NFLPA agreeing to human growth hormone (HGH) testing.
Marijuana is a recurring issue for the NFL. It seems every year more players get into legal trouble because of it and, at the NFL Combine, more and more players test positive for it, even when they know the test is coming. Just this past week it was again in the news as Cleveland Browns breakout receiver Josh Gordon may now be facing a year-long suspension for testing positive for marijuana. For him, this news may have come out just weeks too late as these new policies regarding the drug, which is now fully legal in two states, may have saved him from suspension. The new policies would result in reduced penalties and suspensions for positive tests or an arrest because of marijuana, as well as the threshold of concentration in a drug test being raised to trigger a positive result.
The Players Association has been interested in the NFL studying the medical benefits of marijuana since it is now legal for medical use in many states and fully legal for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. The players believe the reason for an agreement on the new policies regarding marijuana has not been reached because of their attempts to bring in unbiased arbitrators to hear each case in which a player gets disciplined for a nonanalytical positive. A nonanalytical positive is when a player does not test positive for a substance but is being disciplined for a legal situation involving drugs. Many of the complaints about Roger Goodell from the players in the last few years have been about the fact that he wants to have all the power when it comes to player discipline. Players believe the disciplinary process needs to be more democratic and less of Goodell making the final decision in every case.
What might be holding up the agreement from the NFL’s side of the negotiations is their feeling that the arbitration concern is just another distraction technique to put off the issue of HGH testing, which commissioner Roger Goodell has been trying to implement since becoming commissioner in 2006. In the eyes of NFL executives, the issues brought up about commissioner authority and how the test would be done to test for HGH show the NFLPA is clearly not committed to the idea of testing. For the league, arbitration does not really make sense because they would like all final decision on their players to be made by them. For the players, however, arbitration makes complete sense because they want an unbiased look into each individual case and not have each decision come down to the opinion of the commissioner.
Just because the American legal system is becoming more relaxed on the issue of marijuana and how people are punished for it does not mean the NFL has to follow suit. The NFL is a private entity that is allowed to police their league how they see fit, and as of right now, marijuana is still illegal if you are an NFL player. All indications show that the league is headed toward reduced penalties for the drug, but it may be dependent on the NFLPA giving in on the issue of testing for HGH.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius