The NFL player’s union said in September that it reached a deal to loosen league restrictions on marijuana use.
Union leaders said they had successfully negotiated new rules for drug use with league officials. Among other changes, the new rules would raise the cutoff level for cannabis detected in drug tests.
Positive test results are relatively rare, but that may have more to do with the rarity of the tests than it does with the level of marijuana use in the NFL.
The new rules could lead to the reactivation of several players currently serving suspensions for drug violations, including Broncos wide receiver Wes Walker. Josh Gordon, receiver for the Browns, could also see his suspension lowered from the entire season to 10 games.
More importantly, it will make it easier for players across the league to use cannabis despite the league’s ban on the drug.
The rules would also require blood tests for human growth hormone and impose tough new penalties on players or officials who break the NFL’s strict confidentiality protection in drug testing and arbitration proceedings.
Also, the league would have to appoint arbitrators when players challenge penalties. And amphetamine use would come with more stringent penalties.
But the union said it refused an increase in penalties for drunk driving. The league sought to change the rules so players could be suspended for two games after an arrest for drunk driving. But the union pushed back and saved the old requirement that suspensions only follow conviction.
MeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the new policies “wil serve the game well for generations to come.”
The league has some of the toughest anti-marijuana rule in professional sports, even though it has one of the highest rates of cannabis use by players. Violations routinely come with four-game suspensions, with heavier penalties for repeat violators.
Officials said earlier this year that they would consider loosening the rules when league policies came up for negotiation with the players’ union.
The changes in marijuana policy would raise the level of THC in blood tests that triggers league investigations. It’s currently at 15 nanograms per milliliter and would rise to 35 nanograms per milliliter.
The new testing for human growth hormone probably won’t make much difference. Blood tests for the substance are often unreliable, and officials can’t take samples on game days.