Dear NFL: You’ve said no to marijuana; keep saying it for all to hear

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An open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:

Welcome to Minnesota for what we all hope will be a great Super Bowl week. The NFL’s presence in our state offers an opportunity for me to share some insights regarding marijuana. Minnesota, after all, is the birthplace of modern addiction treatment, dating back to the founding of Hazelden (now the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation) in 1949.

As you well know, some current and former players (and others) would like the NFL to change its policy to allow the use of marijuana, primarily as a pain reliever. To your credit, you’ve remained steadfast in opposition to this proposal. Hopefully, you’ll continue that position.

The NFL under your leadership has a great opportunity to send a clear message to professional football players, younger athletes, their parents and other fans — the message that marijuana is an addictive drug with serious risks whether used recreationally or medicinally.

A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found marijuana dangerous to many and addictive for some. Young people are especially vulnerable. Dr. Marc Myer, one of our doctors and a nationally recognized expert on marijuana, says the identified problems associated with marijuana use and the absence of scientific information about benefits “pose a public health risk.”

“The science around the medical value of marijuana is young and unproven, whereas the risks are much clearer and more significant than the rush to legalize might indicate,” Myer said.

There are dangerous similarities between the current rush to expand marijuana availability and previous efforts to expand the use of other substances — like opioid-based painkillers, for example — whose benefits we now know were oversold while their lethal dangers were minimized.

Lost in much of the debate about legalizing marijuana is the fact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any health condition. Not a single one.

We here at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation see the dangers of marijuana up close. Our counselors hear daily tales of regret associated with marijuana use — regrets about wasted time, lost opportunities, squandered talent, impaired memory, reduced performance and disinterest in healthy activities.

I hope you and the NFL enjoy your time in our great state this week. And as you ponder future league policy changes related to marijuana, please proceed cautiously. The risks, as we know them, are too great.

Allowing NFL players to use marijuana would lead to expanded social acceptance, resulting in more new users, higher frequency among established users, and increases in marijuana-related health and social problems. This is an excellent opportunity for the NFL instead to use its omnipresent voice to continue making a pivotal statement about the dangers associated with marijuana. In doing so, the ban provides a public service to the millions of NFL fans and observers nationwide.

Mark Mishek is president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. On Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, the foundation will co-host SoberBowl — an event for football fans who have made the decision to enjoy an alcohol-free big game Sunday.

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