At an NFL owners-only meeting last week, the Cowboys' Jerry Jones reportedly spoke on a few issues, two of which were Roger Goodell's salary and off-field conduct investigations to name a couple. Perhaps the most interesting, though, was a push by Jones for the NFL to end its testing for and bans against marijuana use for players.
As reported by PFT's Mike Florio, Jones was reminded that the drug policy is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would have to be handled during a labor negotiation. The current CBA is set to expire after the 2020 season. While it is tougher for changes to occur outside of the expiration years and negotiation periods, there are mechanisms for this if both parties are in agreement.
Even if it will be four years from now, a change in the NFL's stance against marijuana would be in keeping with the change seen throughout the country. As of the writing of this article, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use and twenty-one others have approved medical use.
Eight NFL teams play in the areas where recreational use is legal. Another fifteen teams are in the states where only medical use is allowed. That's nearly 72% of the NFL's franchises.
About two months ago we shared the comments from the director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, concerning the marijuana issue in pro football. He was clearly in favor of a full review of the league's policies based on the changing national viewpoint towards marijuana and the evolving research in the medical community.
With still over a quarter of its teams playing in states where marijuana is illegal, the NFL is still in a delicate position. Not testing for marijuana could be viewed as a circumvention of state laws and bring them into conflict with certain groups and governmental bodies. On the other hand, countless Americans go to work every day without ever facing drug testing.
The simplest answer would seem to be that the NFL no longer test for marijuana but still have penalties in place for players who break their state laws. This would take the league out of the discussion, mostly, and put the onus back on the local authorities to be the law enforcers. At the same time, it would hold up whatever veil of moral authority the NFL stills wants to preserve.
The NFL could use a public relations win after several problematic years with concussion research, domestic violence issues, and Deflategate. While there are still many in the United States who do not support marijuana legalization, they appear to now be the ever-dwindling minority.
It's rare that the NFL is out in front on social issues. They have an opportunity to at least keep pace here while also looking more concerned about their players. Opening the door to medical marijuana, at least superficially, could be seen as a positive step against some of the concussion and other health issues that have worked against the league;s reputation.
When one of the NFL's most influential owners talks, people listen. Considering that Texas doesn't yet have legalized marijuana, Jerry Jones' desire to speak on this issue make it even more noteworthy. He's trying to look ahead and keep the NFL in step with the times, rather trying to play catch up.