NFL Running Back Challenges League Stance on Medical Cannabis

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The National Football League (NFL) has long had a strict stance on cannabis use. Players are subject to drug screening, and a positive test could result in a loss of their ability to complete. Even when individual states began legalizing the plant for medicinal use, the NFL maintained its prohibitionist stance on cannabis medicine. This is despite the fact that cannabis could be a potential beacon of hope for players with serious brain injuries.

Now, with more states taking strides toward total legalization, the NFL has maintained the same stance. The only way a player can use cannabis without losing their position in the league is to file a special therapeutic use exemption. This kind of exemption only applies if the athlete has a serious diagnosed medical condition that responds to cannabis therapy.

In theory, this policy seems reasonable. In practice, however, the NFL declines requests for exemptions by players with serious conditions that a reasonable person would accept as cause for cannabis use. Finally, a well-known player is pushing back against this policy and the way it discriminates against certain kinds of medicine and pain relief.

The well-known running back formerly from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike James, went on record as being the first player to file a request for an exemption for medical cannabis with the NFL in April of 2018. This followed a positive drug test the previous year and getting released by the Detroit Lions. Now a free agent, he is fighting to maintain his career.

Predictably, the NFL decided to deny his application for the exemption on Thursday, April 26, 2018. James is pushing back and says he will not stop. Cannabis for him is a means to live a healthier life, continue playing professional football and avoiding falling back into pain pill dependency.

For many people, cannabis can actually be an exit drug that helps them end an unhealthy dependence on prescription painkillers. That is absolutely the case for James, who suffered a serious ankle injury in 2013. His doctor prescribed opioids, and James reports that he found himself frighteningly dependent within a few weeks. At the suggestion of his wife, he tried medical cannabis. The plant helped him manage his pain and continue to function as an athlete and a father.

James may well make history as he pushed back against this discriminatory policy that forces player to take more dangerous drugs. He could very well be paving the way for a more sensible policy on cannabis in the professional sports world. If nothing else, he has started a critical discussion that our country needs to have about our approach to drug testing, pain relief and cannabis.

For previous Ladybud coverage about cannabis and the NFL, click here.