The NFL and NFLPA agreed to new initiatives that will at least help with the exploration of a potential sweeping change to the league’s drug policy. The league and the union agreed to the formation of a mental health and wellness committee and a joint pain management committee, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano.
This does not change the league’s marijuana policy, but it marks a step toward additional leniency regarding a drug that is now legal in 10 states. Roger Goodell confirmed this week marijuana as a pain management tool will be examined as a part of these studies.
“We want to explore all of the strategies that help a player deal with acute and chronic pain,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said, via Graziano. “Some of those efforts require medication, some don’t. With regard to marijuana, certainly there’s a lot of discussion about not only cannabis but cannabinoid compounds, CBD, and it’s something that health care providers are exploring outside of football. That type of research will certainly be part of the mission of this committee and this program.”
The league has tested for marijuana since the 1980s but has softened its stance on the drug, as the 2014 amendment to testing showed. (Players no longer face suspensions for marijuana until their fourth positive test, as opposed to two positive tests for other recreational drugs.) Players not in the drug program are only tested once per year for recreational substances, with Ben Volin of the Boston Globe noting those tests usually occur during the first two weeks of training camp. So, players already have considerable latitude regarding marijuana.
As far as the NFL becoming the first of the major North American sports leagues to stop marijuana testing, that may not be on the immediate horizon.
“We may get there. I think some owners certainly have softened on it a little bit,” an owner told Volin. “But I think we’re a long way from deciding we’re not going to test anymore. I think most people would say, ‘Let’s hear from our medical experts about what we’re doing here, whether we’re causing more problems than we’re solving.'”
This week’s agreement also mandates teams employ a mental health professional. Each team’s new mental health employee, however, is only required to spend between eight and 12 hours at team facilities per week.