Pot Still A No Go For NFL Players, Despite Legalization

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Source – https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/01/29/pot-still-a-no-go-for-nfl-players-despite-legalization

Jamie Brown spent five seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman, including stints with Denver, San Francisco and Washington.

His career wasn’t one that would make headlines, but his body got pummeled.

Brown said he took whatever he could to stay on the field. Advil, Tylenol and stronger drugs like Percocet. He had his post-practice routine down to a T.

“So you go in the locker room and you grab your pain pills, you get your medicine, go in there and watch the film,” he remembered. “And then Thursday, straight to the bar to get the coldest beers known to man, and you gonna take you some more pain pills so you can just feel like a human being.”

Eventually a habit grew.

“It’s a ugly cycle that has no — at least when I was playing — it had no shame associated with it,” he said. “It was just mandatory. You gotta do what you gotta do to do what you want to do.”

Brown’s story isn’t unusual for NFL players. And now there’s a growing movement to use alternatives to opioid painkillers — including the use of marijuana.

The drug has become so commonplace in some spots around the country that a multi-state marijuana company even asked CBS to run an ad supporting marijuana legalization during the Super Bowl, according to Bloomberg news. CBS rejected the request.

Still, even while the drug is legal in many states, the NFL continues to ban pot use. If a player is caught, they can be fined or suspended.

Brandon Parker, who works with the NFL Players Association, said as public stigma has decreased, he’s hearing from more players who want to use marijuana to help treat their pain.

“We’re still definitely in the exploratory phase, but the fact that we’re having these discussions, looking into this research, we’re definitely aware of the the possibilities it can have to help our players,” he said.

One of the union’s priorities is making sure it’s complying with the law. But the patchwork of different legal policies in states makes that difficult — even as marijuana is prohibited federally.

There are 32 NFL teams in 23 states. About half of those states allow medical marijuana and another five, including Massachusetts, also permit recreational marijuana.

Gary Feldman is an attorney in Boston. He said in several states where marijuana is legal, there are no protections for employees who use recreational weed.

But if employers don’t want to disqualify large chunks of potential employees, he can see policies changing.

“Or it’s gonna take legislative action at the state level to give job-related protections to people who use marijuana where it’s lawful and … they’re not impaired in any way during working hours,” he said.

Brown started using weed socially, and he realized that the drug helped him cope with the pain he still had from football. So he began to advocate for its use.

He now works with Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a group that advocates for the legalization and effective regulation of marijuana.

“For pain control, the science is pretty clear that cannabis is a drug where the benefits can outweigh the risk,” said David Nathan, president of DFCR. “Especially compared to alternatives including opioids, and even non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen and Toradol.”

For now, marijuana use remains out of bounds for NFL players. But that might change. The player’s union is having early talks to decide whether medical marijuana should be a permitted drug when the next union contract is up for debate in two years.

But former and current football players will still search for better pain treatment. For Brown, using marijuana means he doesn’t have to take pain pills to deal with the residual effects of his career.

“My pain management, especially when it comes to having issues with headaches and not being able to sleep, gosh, I can’t describe how this flower is everything to me when it comes to that,” he said. “And I’m extremely thankful.”

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