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NCAA Sports And Marijuana: Why Should We Care About Weed?

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It might be time to stop worrying about weed in college sports.

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GoAUpher note: Any opinions written below are mine and not the opinion of the full staff of The Daily Gopher (though my goal here is to provoke discussion more than anything). I'd like to thank the folks at The Daily Stampede for inspiring this with their own editorial. While I'll be quoting from their post, I'd recommend you read it in full.

One of the things the fine folks at the SBN Mothership provide site managers is a roundup of cool things written by other sites within the SBN college blog universe. Today's roundup included a nice editorial by Collin Sherwin (@USFCollin), one of the managers at SBN's South Florida blog The Daily Stampede. The thesis of the post was simple...USF should stop testing players for marijuana:

This is a great opportunity for USF to take a leadership position and end marijuana testing tor student-athletes.

Testing for pot is from a bygone era and though the intention was good, it's harming more student-athletes than it's helping. Requiring student-athletes to attend "rehab" programs after testing positive for a substance no longer considered highly addictive by anyone reasonable is pedantic and silly. These are young adults, and should be treated as such.

...

We don't test student-athletes for alcohol, which is far more dangerous. So let's stop testing them for weed too, and let them make the adult decisions they choose.

Collin lists a number of reasons that support his proposal. Among them:

- The NCAA doesn't require schools to test for non-performance enhancing drugs (and some schools like Stanford have already stopped doing so).

- The NCAA's chief medical officer wants the organization to stop testing players for recreational drugs like marijuana (though his overall goal is to get schools testing in more uniform way).

- Marijuana is on the whole less harmful than another drug commonly used by athletes (alcohol).

While all of this makes sense, the comments of the post highlight the number one reason most folks thing schools should keep testing...that the drug is currently illegal. It's a fair point. Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has been classified as illegal and without medical benefit.

However, we're also living in an interesting transitional period where 24 states have passed laws making medical marijuana legal, 4 states have legalized it for recreational purposes, where the VA is working to receive permission to prescribe medical marijuana to treat veterans for conditions like PTSD/depression/pain, and where the DEA is currently considering reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug (legal but closely controlled by prescription like Oxycodone and other narcotics).

There's also the fact that many people find that marijuana helps them deal with pain and that it's less addictive than opiate painkillers. This is a interesting topic when it comes to sports, where athletes consistently receive extremely addictive opiate based painkillers as a tool to allow them to continue to play. It's a question that Real Sports covered in depth when it comes to NFL players (worth a 15 minute watch when you've got the time).

My personal opinion is that any entity with the ability to legally stop caring about marijuana use by it's members/employees should do so. I'm not saying schools should stop drug testing entirely. For example, opiate abuse is a big problem in the US and athletes are common abusers of opiates. As a result, stopping testing for more harmful all "recreational" drugs (which could conceivably include heroin) would be a bad decision in my opinion.

I recognize that schools could face a PR backlash if they made this choice publicly. That said, they wouldn't have to make an announcement about the change either. For example, can anyone here describe the U's stance on testing for marijuana, including the standard testing schedule and penalty scale for failed tests? I'd be surprised if anyone could since the U doesn't publicize this information. Can anyone here even name the last confirmed player suspended for a failed test? I doubt anyone can because the U doesn't list drug use as a cause of a suspension. The standard language used by most schools is some form of "violation of team rules" or the like. So if the U stopped testing for marijuana today, would anyone know or care? It's unlikely.

At the same time, despite the overwhelming change in favor of supporting legalizing marijuana use (58% of the country supports making it legal according to Gallup, up from 36% a decade ago) the drug is still illegal federally and in the majority of states. While there is no legal or NCAA requirement that the U or any other school test athletes for marijuana, I can understand the basis for an argument that if you're going to have a testing program you shouldn't exclude a single substance that is currently illegal, regardless of the reasons.

I don't expect any big changes to school policy at the U or any other NCAA institution anytime soon. As a non-athlete and a person who doesn't use marijuana, I also have no personal stake in the question. But I think it's an interesting question for the off-season and The Daily Stampede's editorial was a nice place to start the conversation. Love to hear people's thoughts in the comments. I don't think weed testing hits the same hot buttons as religion and politics but as with everything here, please try to keep on point if we start slipping into "spider territory" ok?