No, Athletes In Colorado And Washington, You Can’t Start Smoking Weed Now

Ricky Williams temporarily left the NFL to escape its marijuana policy.

When voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives Tuesday that legalize marijuana in limited quantities, college and professional athletes in both states likely began wondering if they’d be able to partake in a post-game joint. But marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and toking up will still get them in trouble with their school, their team, and their league.

Most college athletes wouldn’t benefit from the new laws anyway, since they set a legal age limit at 21. But even those above the age limit will still be subject to the NCAA’s banned substance list, which includes a host of legal drugs and supplements. And the NCAA has no plans to reconsider marijuana in the wake of the new laws, according to an official statement given to Yahoo News:

“The legalizing of marijuana in Colorado and Washington does not impact the NCAA drug testing rules,” the statement said. “The NCAA banned drug and testing policies are not tied to whether a substance is legal for general population use, but rather whether the substance is considered a threat to student-athlete health and safety or the integrity of the game.”

Most professional athletes in the two states, most of whom are of legal age, won’t be able to smoke up either, at least not without violating their leagues’ banned substance lists. Marijuana is banned by a collectively-bargained banned substance list in the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball, meaning the casual smoke will still land members of the states’ pro sports teams — and athletes on teams who visit the states for games — in trouble if they fail a drug test.

But while that question has been answered, here’s a better one: if marijuana legalization movements begin to spread across the country, should it remain on the banned substance list in those sports?

In none of these professional sports is alcohol a banned substance. In fact, in many professional sports, alcohol is openly consumed in locker rooms after games (though the NFL does have authority to punish players for alcohol-related crimes). Tobacco isn’t banned either. Instead, it is used on the field by baseball players and openly by numerous athletes and coaches. And the presence of drugs, while not as explicit and widespread, exists too: the University of Oregon football team’s cannabis culture isn’t a big secret, an American judoist was booted from the Olympic team for eating a pot-laced brownie, and players (and even coaches) routinely fail drug tests. And who can forget Ricky Williams, the All-Pro running back who temporarily left a promising NFL career behind in part because he wanted to smoke freely?

Of course, it may not be advisable for a high-level athlete to smoke marijuana regularly, but then it wouldn’t seem advisable for them to abuse tobacco or alcohol either. The vast majority of the drugs banned in sports aren’t banned because of health concerns but because they are either illegal or performance enhancing (even when otherwise legal). But like both alcohol and tobacco, there’s no credible argument that using or playing under the influence of marijuana is “performance enhancing.”

The discussion of whether marijuana should remain banned on the world stage has started with the World Anti-Doping Agency, which largely restricts athletes from performance-enhancing drugs but also includes marijuana on its banned substance list. But as other countries begin to liberalize their drug laws, concerns have arisen that WADA could better utilize its funds chasing drugs that are more damaging, both to the consumer’s health and the integrity of the sport he or she plays, than marijuana. Those same concerns could, at some point, confront American sports leagues that are fighting to keep up with the latest trends in performance-enhancing drugs.

Marijuana will of course remain a banned substance at both the professional and college levels because it is still largely illegal and because the status quo in sports is often even stronger than it is in our politics. And, obviously, we’re likely a long way off from full-scale marijuana legalization. But the idea that a significant number of our athletes aren’t already partaking in America’s most common illegal drug habit is, frankly, absurd. And as the rest of the country starts to re-examine its views, and its laws, on weed, shouldn’t our sports leagues too?