NCAA Looks To “Weed” Out THC Testing
Sounds like "going green" will now be ok (at least sparingly) for student-athletes at the NCAA level, that is if CSMAS gets its way. Playing as a college athlete at a Division 3 school, I knew several athletes that used marijuana not only as a way to cool down after practice but as a way to deal with aches and pains.
According to a press release from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, they have shown support for removing cannabis from the Association's banned drug list and testing protocols.
This issue was referred to the committee by Divisions II and III; with those divisions asking the committee to consider the Association's cannabis policy and whether NCAA drug testing should be limited to only performance-enhancing substances.
For the cannabinoid class to be removed from the NCAA list of banned drugs, each of the 3 divisional governance bodies would have to introduce and adopt the legislation. In addition, the committee is seeking support from the NCAA Board of Governors to stop testing for cannabis at NCAA championship events while legislative action is being considered.
This change is largely due to a recent 2022 Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics. The consensus there was that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug and that a harm-reduction approach to cannabis would be best implemented at the school level. This is very similar to how the body currently treats issues with alcohol and student-athletes.
The NCAA wants to focus specifically on these areas when dealing with cannabis, according to the report:
- Focusing on testing for substances that provide an unfair advantage by enhancing athletic performance.
- Shifting toward a harm reduction philosophy for cannabis, similar to the approaches taken with alcohol.
- Realigning toward institutional testing and how that testing supports/enhances campus efforts to identify problematic cannabis use.
- Educating student-athletes on the health threats posed by contemporary cannabis and methods of use.
- Identifying and explaining relevant harm reduction/mitigation strategies to those student-athletes who choose to legally consume cannabis.
Many other organizations in sports have moved away from testing altogether as more states legalize the substance for recreational use. For example, Major League Baseball announced it was dropping marijuana from its list of "drugs of abuse" back in 2019. In addition, the National Football League halted THC testing for players during the off-season in 2021.
Since marijuana has been legalized across 21 states (so far) many high-profile stars have come out in support of its use including Calvin Johnson, Megan Rapinoe, Joe Montana, Ricky Williams, Al Harrington, and many others. Joe Montana has been quite outspoken about its pain relief use, especially when considering cannabis as an alternative to opiates. The Bleacher Report did an entire article about the changes across the industry at a professional level, it makes sense that at the collegiate level, those same conversations would be had now that legalization & use is so rampant.
The panel has argued that the NCAA should approach cannabis similarly to alcohol, with the goal being to shift away from punitive measures and focus on educating student-athletes about the health risks of marijuana use. It also comes at a time when recreational legalization is on the rise and tax revenue is raking in billions of dollars on cannabis sales in legal states. The NCAA is expected to make a final decision in the fall.