Marijuana has been stuck on the top of the NBA’s banned substances list for a long time, but some recent changes in policy could indicate that it might not be for long. Now that more than half the nation has legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, officials overseeing professional basketball’s inner workings are starting to lose interest in players who smoke weed.
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) recently announced that it is discontinuing random drug screens for marijuana in the 2020-21 season. “Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement.
Although the decision to end marijuana testing is just an extension of the drug testing hiatus put into place at the beginning of the pandemic, the fact that the NBA isn’t in any hurry to start it up again is positive news. In March, just as the season was being forced to shut down because of COVID-19, the NBA pulled the plug on recreational drug testing until it could resume. The season has already come and gone. The Lakers won the championship, and players still aren’t being questioned about their pot use. But, given the NBA’s stance on cannabis, they probably should be.
In July, a feature story in The Athletic revealed that NBA players were going buck wild with bud inside the Orlando bubble. Many players tried to figure out how long a pound of pot would last them while waiting to see if their team would face elimination.
Most players were locked down for at least 40 days during playoff season, while others were there for more than 50. Players with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat were inside the basketball bubble for 82 days. So, just how much marijuana was on Disney World’s property during the playoffs? “You’re asking about Fight Club,” one agent told the news source. “There’s no testing for a reason.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that sometimes he feels uncool continuing to test players for marijuana. He admits the league is looking to change the drug policy eventually. But he doesn’t want to take any bold steps that might send the wrong message to the fans. Especially the young ones.
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“When we change our policy, we have to be really careful because we’re clearly sending a message to young people,” Silver said in June. “Just like with alcohol, you have to teach young people how to use a substance appropriately and responsibly, so it doesn’t overwhelm your life.”
While the NBA doesn’t have any interest in randomly testing for marijuana during the 2020-21 season, it still reserves the right to test players and coaching staff if they have “cause” to do so. This applies to past offenders and any other situation where blatant marijuana use is suspected. But other than that, they aren’t going to worry about who is smoking pot for a while.
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Of course, NBA officials haven’t come out and said that they are temporarily halting drug testing as a baby step toward ending prohibition on the substance altogether. It claims the move is more of an effort to limit any unnecessary contact with players while the pandemic continues to threaten everyone’s safety.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement outlines the ban on marijuana. It’s set to run through the 2023-24 season.