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Marijuana and Elite Sports

03/2/2021 News & Business

It seems all facets of society and our culture are letting up on marijuana usage with their respective participants, especially if it’s medical marijuana (MMJ).  Major and elite sports have long had issues with supplements that could enhance performance and as far as marijuana was concerned, most sports considered it a drug to be tested along with all other drugs and performance enhancements (i.e. doping).  And professional American sports have had a rocky history with drug abuse (just Google “MLB cocaine usage in the 1980s …).  

But good news!  Things are changing and in recent years major professional sports have been easing up on their testing for marijuana, or at least easing up the penalties for testing positive for the herb for some sports organizations.  Along with other marijuana progress, America is leading the way with sporting organizations relaxing their hard stance on marijuana.  Most professional sports recognize the medical benefits of medical marijuana for their athletes – particularly for pain.

Let’s take a look at where sporting and marijuana usage currently stands at this time, in early 2021 …


The initial trouble with changing the marijuana policy for Major League Baseball was that, like most professional sports, the teams are spread out over dozens of states – some with, some without legalized weed.  But the organization put all of that aside and took weed off its list of banned substances.  Realizing that some players use marijuana for more than just its medical purposes, baseball’s governing body simply said:  Don’t come to the ballpark stoned or else face a penalty much, in the same way, a player who shows up drunk.   


The National Hockey League is going much the same route as MLB in that they have removed cannabis from their banned substance list.  But they are going even further in not necessarily penalizing players for testing positive for weed, though “alarmingly” high levels of THC in a player’s test results may result in treatment.  The treatment, their statement on the subject says, is more of a guideline and isn’t a prerequisite for playing. 

ice hockey player scores

Recently, weed and edibles have been reported to help hockey players as they live in the COVID-19-bubble while they play out this season.  Players and traveling support staff was experiencing sadness and loneliness while being away from family and playing in empty arenas, so instead of turning to booze it seems a lot of players are turning to MJ!   


Historically the National Football League has had a very hard stance on marijuana usage among its players.  Penalties included full-season bans on players for smoking weed!  One of the best-known stories is of former running back, Ricky Williams who scored 66 touchdowns and ran over 10,000 yards his entire career.  During his stint with the Miami Dolphins, he tested positive several times.  One of those times he faced a four-game suspension and fine of over $650,000!  Later, in 2006, after having tested positive he was suspended for the entire season, even though the traces of THC were a part of his holistic treatment he was receiving while in California in the offseason.

football on field in football stadium

Fortunately, the NFL has caught up with modern times and has lifted its stiff penalties for marijuana usage, but this wasn’t necessarily because of some cannabis-epiphany the organization had.  No, it’s because of the collective bargaining agreement the league came to with the players’ union last year.  Still, it’s a win for professional football players and it’s in place through 2030, though hopefully by then the entire country (world?) will be fully accepting of marijuana.


The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the latest professional sporting organization to ‘throw in the towel’ (get it??) on marijuana as a banned substance.  In January of this year (2021), the organization pretty much wiped the herb off the list and stated that it would only intervene with a fighter who was visibly impaired by marijuana usage.  We suppose this means the fighter would have to be stumbling stoned, blood-shot eyes, and reek of marijuana before entering the match.  We’re not sure how this will be enforced, but it seems that the decision-making entity of ultimate fighting doesn’t really mind if – or how much – players use.

two fighters in ufc tournament

Their reversal on their policy came after players complained to the organization that their CBD-usage for pain was triggering a positive result on their doping tests.  The alternative is highly-addictive opioids, so the UFC gave in and removed cannabis altogether from the no-no list.  


It wasn’t too long ago that the National Basketball Association was lauded as being “lax” on their marijuana policy.  But in recent years, their stance has become outdated and – compared to other sports – pretty harsh.  The first positive test results in a player going to drug counseling (think about it:  a player who smoked a jay a couple of days before a random test is in the same treatment program as a player who has a raging opioid addiction … yeah, doesn’t make sense to us either); the second positive result and a player is slapped with a $25,000 fine; a third positive result and the player can say bye-bye to at least five games.   And that was once considered ‘lax’!

professional basketball players slam dunk illustration

But with the current COVID-19 crisis, the league has decided to suspend all marijuana testing of its players.  Which is good for the players’ weed usage, but it still doesn’t make sense.  Marijuana is either ‘on’ or ‘not on’ the banned substance list – what does COVID-19 have to do with that designation?  If the league can suspend testing for MJ during a pandemic, why can’t they just take it off the banned substance list altogether?  We’ll have to see once the current COVID-19 CF is over.


And the Olympics!  Though not technically “professional”, the organization governing the international sporting event has also softened its stance on marijuana, now allowing small amounts of MJ in athlete’s systems since 2013.  This is just 5 years after Michael Phelps was caught on camera lighting up a huge bong and caused a firestorm of controversy!   Which all seemed completely over-blown since it was while he was taking a much-needed and -deserved break after winning his gazillionth gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.  

olympic rings

Still, weed usage isn’t totally accepted in the Olympics since it depends on the laws of the host country.  So for Tokyo, 2020 – err, I mean 2021, don’t expect to hear about any awesome smoke fest going on in the Olympic Village since marijuana is illegal in Japan and violators can face up to 5 years in jail.  Just ask Paul McCartney!

It’s all about the federal …  

As much as we would all love to see sporting organizations just say “yes” to weed usage by their athletes, at least for the US it’s not that simple.  With a little over half of the states having MMJ and less than that having recreational (at the time of this writing), there’s no one-size-fits-all, quick path to general marijuana usage.  Within those limitations, there are also varying attitudes towards weed between different sports.  And finally, there’s the current federal classification – which we all hope will change soon.  But as most aspects of the general change in attitude over ganja – we are moving in the right direction!

So, smoke a bowl and play ball! And don’t miss our video on sports and cannabis, below!

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