In April of 2016, rapper Snoop Dogg took to social media to voice his frustration with the NFL’s policy on marijuana, after learning that the league was offering courses to teach players to be a responsible gun owners.
"We should say motherfucking marijuana is legal, not fucking guns, you goofy ass motherfuckers. NFL, y’all stupid as fuck. Man, get at me about fixing this shit,” Snoop ranted in a colorful commentary. “How y’all gonna clear guns but don’t clear motherfucking marjuana? Marijuana calms a motherfucker down. Guns turn a motherfucker up. Nothing goes right with guns."
Snoop — a longtime marijuana advocate and the father of former UCLA Bruins athlete Cordell Broadus — would later find himself standing in solidarity with several other players in support of marijuana use within the National Football League.
The scene is a “meet and greet” event at Las Vegas, NV cannabis cornerstone Reef Dispensaries on December 30th, 2016, where Snoop is appearing along with a handful of former NFL players. The purpose of the event, put on with the help of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, is to raise awareness about the NFL’s ban on cannabis as a medicinal painkiller and as an alternative to the addictive prescription drugs that are currently allowed by the league.
“We were given opioids like candy on planes coming home from games,” reveals former Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts safety Gerome Sapp, recounting the rampant misuse of prescription drugs during his time within the NFL. “They were so cavalier about giving them out, yet they don’t want to consider cannabis as a wellness solution. The fundamental issue with that is hypocrisy,” he adds.
The hypocrisy he speaks of is that of the NFL’s inclusion of marijuana on the list of banned substances, despite it being legal in many of the same states that host teams in the league. At the same time, many players are succumbing to the dangers of legal, prescription opioid drugs that the NFL has approved for use.
“Twenty-two of the thirty-two NFL teams are in states that have legal medical marijuana. So the players from those teams can access marijuana legally in their home states and yet are still not allowed to use it, according to the policy of the NFL,” says David Nathan, founder of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, the only physicians organization dedicated to the legalization, taxation and “smart regulation” of cannabis in the United States.
“In professional sports where cannabis doesn’t have an enhancing or deleterious effect on performance, there is no reason for the drug to be banned from those professions — and that includes the NFL,” Nathan adds.
Penalties for players caught using marijuana — even when prescribed legally by a doctor — range from a two-week fine to a ten game suspension. Following four infractions, any positive test for marijuana or any other substances banned by the NFL will result in banishment from the league. Just ask on-again/off-again Miami Dolphins/Baltimore Ravens running back Ricky Williams, who failed multiple drug tests throughout his tenure — many times testing positive for marijuana usage — before ultimately retiring in 2012.
“A game like football that is so physically demanding, football players should be given every resource or means to take care of themselves,” says Williams. “I think the NFL owes it to the players and what they have sacrificed for the league. [Cannabis] is a healthier choice than having to take what the doctors prescribe.”
Currently on the menu for your favorite EA Sports and Wheaties box cover stars are legal, NFL-approved prescription opioids like Oxycontin, Vicodin and methadone, each of which have been proven to be highly addictive. Adding to the problem, while states like Florida have begun to crackdown on prescription drug abuse, as a result they have seen an explosion in heroin overdoses, as many painkiller dependent people are turning to it as a cheaper alternative to opioids. Further, a study by Washington University in the St. Louis School of Medicine showed that retired NFL players consume prescription opioids four times more than the average patient, with their habits originating from misuse while playing in the league.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think that’s what we’ve seen with the opiates and the pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories,” says former Chicago Bears offensive tackle Eben Britton. “With so much being revealed about the healing benefits of cannabis, I think that it’s time that the NFL took a serious look about the wellness, safety, and health of their players.”
“We have a league where players are forced to use prescribed opioid drugs and anti-inflammatories to deal with injury, to deal with pain. We know those drugs are very dangerous. They lead to addiction, they lead to death in some cases,” says former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.
Monroe teamed with Doctors For Cannabis Regulation in summer of 2016 to help raise awareness about the NFL’s policy on cannabis use and the problems associated with prescription drugs. Together they hope they can convince the league to lift the ban on cannabis as a doctor prescribed painkiller for players.
“We saw this as a great opportunity and a great synergy to get doctors and NFL players together to speak with one voice, representing both the [players’] first hand point of view about cannabis use in the NFL and the physicians who have the scientific expertise to support their ability to use it and not be penalized for it by the NFL,” says Nathan, who founded the Washington DC-based organization in April 2016.
After penning a widely read op-ed on the subject for the Wall Street Journal in 2010, Nathan found that while many doctors silently agreed with his stance, few were publicly willing to join him in his crusade. Thus, Doctors For Cannabis Regulation was born, which has now brought together a band of like-minded physicians working towards a common goal.
With all of the research supporting cannabis for medicinal use and the evidence that shows the long-term detrimental effects of prescription opioids, one has to wonder if there aren’t more sinister forces at work.
“It’s hard to say, I find it interesting that a manufacturer of fentanyl put a lot of money into the campaign against one of the [marijuana legalization] ballot measures in November,” hints Nathan, not pointing any fingers directly. Perhaps he is referring to pharmaceutical giant Insys Therapeutics Inc., which was behind a $500,000 donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, who fought to keep marijuana illegal in Arizona during the November 2016 election.
Reef Dispensaries head Matthew Morgan answers the question more directly.
“Absolutely, I think they are working every single angle possible to keep the ban in place for the NFL and every other sports league in the country,” he says. “If you go look into the lobbying efforts, you can see how much money Big Pharma have lobbied against cannabis for recreational and medical use. It’s big money.”
“I do think that opioid use is likely to decrease if marijuana is legalized [for use in the NFL]…There is evidence that states with laws legalizing medical marijuana prescription opioid deaths are 25% lower in the states that don’t have those laws, which suggests that there may be some degree of substitution of cannabis for opioids,” adds Nathan. “In my mind, as a physician both knowledgeable about substance abuse and misuse, I think that that kind of substitution is something we should encourage.”
“If you like cannabis or you do not like cannabis, you cannot deny the facts that it’s proven to help,” says Sapp. “For people that are thinking in a rational world, I don’t understand why you would deny people something that is proven to help other people, especially with the type of injuries that the NFL has created.”