Skip to main content

Most headlines coming out of negotiations between NFL owners and players over the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) have focused on the proposed 17-game schedule. While that topic has been a main point of discussion, the league’s marijuana policy could play a role in whether or not the deal gets done.

What is the NFL’s current marijuana policy?

The NFL’s current marijuana policy is the most stringent of any major American sport. When a player tests positive for marijuana, the league can dole out severe and escalating penalties that can lead up to and sometimes include indefinite suspension. A long suspension means potentially a large loss of income.

In addition to the harsh punishments, the testing window is excessively long by other league’s standards. The NFL marijuana policy allows for testing to begin on April 20—yes, that is 4/20—and extend to just before the start of training camps in early August.

Because all tests are random, players could potentially get tested on that first day in April up until August. In other words, NFL players are expected to refrain from using marijuana for almost the entirety of the off-season.

All of this could change under the new CBA.

What are the proposed changes to the NFL’s marijuana policy?

The first change in the proposed policy includes a major reduction of the off-season testing window from four months to just two weeks.

In addition, the proposed policy also includes drastically reduced penalties and suspensions that would happen “only in the event of extreme and repeated disregard of the policy” or in instances where the player has a “significant violation” of criminal law in their respective jurisdiction.

Basically, the NFL is saying it won’t completely eliminate its ban on marijuana use, but it will rein in its efforts to pursue violators and punish those who fail a test. Both of these changes are similar to what you will find in the other major sports.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently told a local Dallas radio station he believes the proposed changes are a step in the right direction.

I think the world is sensitive to the issue regarding marijuana. It’s also an issue contemporarily we’re excited about being in step with the social and legal scene as it goes forward. And, so, we not only have the interest of competitiveness in mind when it comes to any type of substance, we have the issue of the law and we have the issue of the society focus on it. All of that does receive attention when you’re discussing this area with players.

Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones

Will this policy change be the impetus for players to sign the new CBA?

The players, like the general public, understand there’s been a shift in the public perception of marijuana. According to an ESPN report, marijuana is legal—recreational or medicinal—in 101 of 123 or 82% of the states or provinces where professional sports teams play in the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL).

Because of the widespread legalization, the growing acceptance nationally, plus the progressive policies of the other leagues, players naturally view the current NFL’s marijuana policy as outdated. In other words, it’s a policy change that’s long overdue.

As a result, the NFL’s proposed marijuana policy makes for a good talking point, but don’t expect it to be a major contributing factor as to whether or not the players agree or disagree to sign off on the new CBA deal. That decision will more likely come down to bigger issues such as the proposed changes in salary and the increase to a 17-game schedule.