By EDDIE PELLS, Associated Press
Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it’s not simply because more players are using it.
As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana’s possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.
“It’s not, let’s go smoke a joint,” retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. “It’s, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?”
One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game.
A Gallup poll last year found 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. That’s already happened in Colorado and Washington — the states that are home of last season’s Super Bowl teams.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has said it does not need to catch out-of-competition marijuana users. And at least one high-profile coach, Pete Carroll of the champion Seahawks, publicly said he’d like to see the NFL study whether marijuana can help players.
There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common.
Redskins offensive lineman Ryan Clark didn’t want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, “I know a lot of guys who don’t regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season.”
Washington wouldn’t put a specific number on it but said he, too, knew his share of players who weren’t shy about lighting up when he was in the league, including one guy “who just hated the pain pills they were giving out at the time.” Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006.
“They are leaning on it to cope with the pain,” said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. “They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game.”
The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts — concussions and painkillers — both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.
The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others.
“Different medicines work differently from person to person,” Vandrey said. “There’s pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it’s a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated.”
Washington, who is part of the concussion lawsuit, is working with a bio-pharmaceutical and phyto-medical company called KannaLife Sciences that recently received licensing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a drug to treat concussions using derivatives from medical marijuana.
Co-founder Thoma Kikis, who has been working on cannibas-based solutions to concussions for a few years, said he approached the NFL about signing on to the research.
“They didn’t want to meet, didn’t want to take a position to create any kind of controversy,” Kikis said. “I understand that. But ultimately, they’re going to have to make a decision and look into different research.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season’s Super Bowl he said the league would “follow the medicine” and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.
A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing.
“I’ve heard that in conversations,” said Wiley, a plaintiff in the painkiller lawsuit. “And I think it’s despicable that you’d pit them against each other.”
The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league’s priorities are out of whack.
In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions.
“As much as I love to watch professional football, I’m beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions,” Grinspoon said. “I don’t want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn’t give them any recourse to try to protect themselves.”
The league does, in fact, fund sports-health research at the NIH, to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it’s conducted and, as Vandrey says, “the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research.”
Meanwhile, marijuana becomes more and more acceptable across America every day. But even with the Super Bowl being dubbed “The Stoner Bowl” and the issue hanging heavily over the NFL’s marquee event, the league has shown no signs of quick movement.
The league’s threshold for a positive test remains 10 times lower than that of WADA, which changed its limit last year in a nod to the reality that the drug is not a performance enhancer.
The NFL’s conundrum is figuring a graceful way to keep tabs on those who use marijuana recklessly — or recreationally — while giving others a legitimate form of pain relief.
“I’d like to see us advance the subject to where we’re all mature and we get it,” Wiley said, “and we let players make the decision for themselves.”
Cogan Schneier, USA TODAY
With farmers markets all the rage these days, especially in the summer, a new kind of farmers market is budding on the West Coast — medical marijuana farmers markets.
Marijuana use prescribed by a doctor is legal in 23 states, and farmers markets featuring locally grown cannabis and other marijuana products have begun to pop up in Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona.
These markets are strictly medicinal; patrons need to show a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card to get in, depending on the state. Market vendors set up booths to advertise and sell their cannabis, pot-infused edible products, topical creams and all sorts of ganja goodies.
Michael Keysor founded the Northwest Cannabis Market in Seattle in 2011. Keysor, the market’s CEO, started with a smaller market and eventually expanded to two locations. Now he oversees 26 market employees and nearly 400 vendors. His markets are open seven days a week.
Keysor says his market strictly follows city and state regulations, assuring the community that his market is only for medicinal purposes and offers quality products.
In other states, marijuana farmers markets have seen a different fate. The California Heritage Market in Los Angeles was shut down after city attorney Mike Feuer filed a complaint after the market opened on July 4.
Feuer argued that the farmers market violated city pot dispensary laws, because city law prohibits multiple marijuana vendors to sell on one site. He also said the market was a public nuisance. A judge halted the market’s operation until a hearing Aug. 6.
In Colorado, marijuana activist Justin Hartfield tried a different approach. Hartfield petitioned city regulators last year to allow the sale of marijuana at the city’s Sunday farmers market. Hartfield says he thought the market could be an alternative to pot dispensaries, which were not yet allowed in Boulder.
Though Hartfield had a few conversations with public officials, he says in the end, the city simply wasn’t ready yet in terms of regulation.
Patrick von Keyserling, communications director for the city of Boulder, says city law requires marijuana be sold indoors. It also cannot be brought within 1000 feet from a school, and the farmers market in Boulder is across the street from high school athletic fields. He says currently, the Boulder city council has no plans to change these regulations.
Still, Hartfield remains hopeful.
“I think places like Colorado, we’re gonna get it right,” Hartfield says. “Clearly there’s a huge need for medical patients to connect with growers.”
Keysor says, “It’s just like your local pharmacy. You like to have that person behind the counter you can trust, who knows about your history.”
Patients who use medicinal marijuana have varied and specific needs, Keysor says. Some people prefer edibles but need gluten-free products, while some would like an herbal tea but don’t want caffeine. Keysor, who has arthritis, treats the pain with marijuana.
The details can be crucial for patients, says Alex Cooley, co-founder and vice president at Solstice Grown, a marijuana production center that does some business with farmers markets. Different strains of cannabis can have different effects. Cooley says even the way marijuana is administered -whether it is eaten, smoked or applied as a cream – can affect how a patient reacts.
Keysor says perhaps the best product of the market is the sense of community.
“It brings competition together, it brings together people of like minds,” Keysor says. “And it brings ideas so the product can grow, change and help our patients more.”
The New York Times unveiled in the Sunday Review today the first editorial in a series emphatically encouraging the legalization of marijuana in America.
After Times columnist Maureen Dowd briefly dabbled (but not dabbed) with newly legal weed in Denver, the storied institution seems to have gotten a whiff of that sweet green, coming out fiercely in defense of legalizing the drug.
New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd Is Very Bad at Getting High
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd journaled through a THC-infused hallucination this week and…
The headline is simple enough:
Repeal Prohibition, Again
We are right with you. The editorial board's opening article, the first in what is being called an "Editorial Series on Marijuana Legalization," begins with its apt comparison to prohibition and goes on from there:
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
As a treat for lovers of behind-the-scenes content, editorial board member Andrew Rosenthal explained in a blog post titled "Some Background on Our 'High Time' Series" what influenced the decision to focus so much attention on weed legalization:
But we believe that this is a big issue for the country — not because we think everyone should be smoking pot, but because while you were reading this blog post, there's a good chance that, somewhere in the country, a young man — probably an African-American man — was arrested on a marijuana violation. Even if he is spared a prison term, that arrest is likely to severely harm, if not ruin, his life.
The Times editorial notes that they are advocating legalization of weed for anyone above the age of 21, due to potential damage to adolescent brains, but notes that "moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults." The editorial explains the potential social rewards of legalization:
The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.
This series will continue in the Times in the coming weeks, the board says, and questions, comments, and ideas are currently being accepted for your imagination of America's Weed Future.