A couple of days ago, I brought to you news that the NFLPA was forming a new committee on pain management that is going to look into a number of alternatives to that which the players currently have available to them, and while it is just one of several alternatives tentatively being looked at, the headline has been, of course, the use of marijuana as a pain management device.
Now, Pittsburgh Steelers NFLPA player representative Ramon Foster recently spoke to USA Today about the topic and made a plea for further, sincere efforts to not only explore the use of marijuana as an option, but also for greater lenience on players who are caught using the drug.
“If I can stop a guy from using opioids or any other type of drug that inhibits him or makes him an addict”, he said, “I would rather that guy smoke marijuana than to be on something that’s a cousin to heroin”.
He pointed out the absurdity of the NFL’s currently drug system that he says suggests that the league doesn’t really care if players use drugs as long as they don’t get caught. Foster says that players not in the drug program are only tested once a year, and that after they are tested and cleared, they can actually “indulge for the rest of the year”.
Yet those in the drug program are exposed to rigorous testing, which his teammate, Le’Veon Bell, says led to a second suspension because he missed multiple drug tests while he was rehabilitating a season-ending knee injury.
Foster also talked about another teammate, Martavis Bryant, who is currently on indefinite suspension after failing multiple drug tests following a four-game suspension the year prior. Bryant’s agent told USA Today that he used marijuana to help him with depression.
“We’re a league that wants to evolve and help the player, push the player, put the players on the platform”, he said while pointing out that forcing a player to be away with his teammates does him harm and makes it more likely for him to use.
“We can help that guy by also helping him help himself”, he said. “Are we helping him by taking away all his money for the year?” A former Steeler, Ryan Clark, has said that marijuana use around the league is already widespread based on his experiences in the league, which centered largely in Pittsburgh.
“Everybody knows it’s not taboo anymore”, Foster said, pointing out the diversity in terms of race, class, culture, and gender that makes up the active body of marijuana users around the country. “If it’s proven and a guy’s not being a degenerate or being reckless in what he’s doing, driving around with it, and it helps take away from the opioid use, why not? Why have a guy taking 97 pills a day? That’s insane. If you really want to help the guys, consider it”.
It should be pointed out that ‘marijuana’, or cannabinoids, do not have to be smoked in order to alleviate pain symptoms, so the NFLPA’s research into the drug as a painkiller does not mean that players around the league are going to be smoking doobies out in the open. The pain-relieving drug can be administered in a variety of forms.
At this time, the majority of the country lives in states in which marijuana use is at least decriminalized or legal for medicinal use, while eight states have now legalized recreational use, so the momentum appears clear. I believe the time is far overdue for the DEA to remove the drug from the Schedule I category under the Controlled Substances Act. Doing so would open the floodgates for medical research, as well as the alleviation of unjust stigmas—speaking as a non-user.