EVERY player in the NFL has a certifiable need for medical marijuana.

The game we celebrate creates a life of daily pain for those who play it. Some players choose marijuana to manage this pain, which allows them to perform at a high level without sacrificing their bodies or their minds.

Currently, many players medicated with marijuana for most of their career. And they need the medication. Broken bones, dislocated shoulders, broken fingers and ribs, and most concerning, brain trauma from concussions. Most players have similar medical charts. And every one of them needs the medicine, we call cannabis.

Standard pain management in the NFL is pain pills and pregame injections. But not all players favor the pill and needle approach. From what I am hearing from interviews with numerous current and former players, many prefer marijuana. The attitude toward cannabis in the locker room mirrors the attitude in America at large. It’s not a big deal. Players have been familiar with it since adolescence, and those who use it do so to offset the brutality of the game.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is known for being a strict disciplinarian, and the league goes to great lengths to project a “family-friendly” reputation. Which is clearly a farce given the situations of domestic violence that are handled with a slap on the wrist. Many were outraged at Ray Rice’s two game suspension for punching and knocking out his then fiancé, compared to the much harsher punishments for smoking cannabis. Denver Bronco’s own Von Miller, who was suspended for four games in 2013 after testing positive for marijuana, is a good example of the prejudiced policy of the NFL.

Other NFL players, who received harsher punishments than Rice, would include:

  • Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns: As a repeat offender (he tested positive for marijuana earlier in 2014), Gordon’s second positive test led to him being suspended for the entire 2014 season. (The NFL will usually suspend first-time offenders for four games, while second-time offenders can get a year and multiple offenders can get banned for life.)
  • Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals: Suspended for the 2014 season after testing positive for marijuana.
  • Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks: Suspended for four games in 2013 after testing positive for “substance abuse” (NFL’s term), with the substance in question likely marijuana—also legal in the state of Washington.
  • Brandon Browner, New England Patriots: Suspended for all of 2013 and for four games in 2014 for testing positive for marijuana, and was threatened with a lifetime ban.
  • Will Hill, New York Giants: Suspended for six games for 2014, and suspended for four games in 2013 after testing positive for “substance abuse” (again, almost certainly marijuana).

However, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. The NFL has adopted new rules surrounding cannabis testing. Under the new rules, players still will be screened and punished for using marijuana, which remains a designated “substance of abuse.” However, pot-induced suspensions and banishments will require a higher number of failed tests than other substances, and the threshold for a positive marijuana test – how much of the drug needs to be in a player’s urine to trigger a red flag – will more than double, though remain lower than thresholds used by Major League Baseball and the World Anti-Doping Association.

It’s a small win for common sense. The NFL’s War on Cannabis is increasingly out of step with both medical science and the culture at large. By relaxing its marijuana policy, the NFL is better aligning itself with contemporary America.

With all of that said – if the NFL truly wanted to be progressive – or just plain smart – it would be better off ending its marijuana prohibition entirely. Just Say Yes! An enthusiastic embrace of cannabis to rival the sports world’s longstanding love affair with alcohol? That might be premature. But a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell attitude coupled with the careful adoption of medical marijuana? That would be better for the league’s public image, and better for the health of the athletes who make professional football possible.

And once again, we are not blowing smoke….

ABOUT BLOWING SMOKE – We would like to answer your questions.  Please send any questions or comments to Wanda@NoBlowingSmoke.com. Blowing Smoke is written each month by Wanda James who is the managing partner at Cannabis Global Initiative and a leading advocate in the cannabis industry. James worked with the regulatory process to bring medical marijuana to fruition and was appointed to the Colorado Governor’s Amendment 64 Task Force Work Group. Here political and professional work on cannabis reform has led to her being featured in numerous national shows including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and on CNBC’s Marijuana USA.  She and her husband, Scott Durrah, also own Jezebel’s Southern Bistro + Whiskey Bar in Denver.