Creating a proposal that would amend the NFL’s substance-abuse policy with a less-punitive approach to marijuana use is one of many topics the NFL Players’ Association will be discussing during its annual meeting Wednesday through Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Player reps from all 32 teams will attend, including Vikings left guard Alex Boone, a co-alternate who is stepping in for the recently retired Chad Greenway. More than 100 players are expected to attend the meeting that’s open to all active players, said George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the players’ association.
“I don’t expect there will be a proposal ready to present to the league [this week],” Atallah said. “I think the realistic expectation is to have a candid discussion with the players about how the policies are working now … and how they want to move forward. Our philosophy is to try to make [penalties for marijuana use] less punitive and more supportive of players who may need assistance.”
Atallah said the union is hopeful a proposal can be voted on by the players and presented to the league for collective bargaining “in the coming months.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at the Walter Payton Man of the Year fan forum at the Super Bowl in February, said the league keeps an open mind on the possibility of changing its policy on marijuana.
“We rely on our medical experts and to date, those medical advisers have not recommended that we change our policy to permit marijuana use,” Goodell said. “Obviously, we’re aware of the fact that marijuana use, particularly in medical areas, is something that there’s a lot of research behind. And we’ll follow that closely. If for some reason there’s a potential change that can benefit our players and it’s medically supported with research and fact, then we will certainly consider that. And I do know the players’ association is looking into that.”
Three years ago, the NFL and the union tweaked the drug policy by raising the threshold for what qualifies as a positive test for marijuana. Marijuana remains a banned substance that can draw fines and suspensions that start with four games after four positive or missed tests.
“How we treat marijuana as a substance is a focus, but it’s not necessarily the only substance we will be looking at,” Atallah said. “We’re trying to approach this in a comprehensive way for pain management as opposed to just, ‘Are we going discipline players for smoking or not?’ It’s more, ‘What are we going to do to present the league with a way that we can help players deal with pain addiction, opioid use,’ things like that.”
Boone declined to comment on the issue of marijuana use. But Arizona Cardinals receiver and Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr. has indicated he doesn’t believe loosening the rules on illegal drug use is a good idea for an image-conscious league.
“You got to look at the bigger picture,” Fitzgerald said while sitting next to Goodell at the same fan forum last month. “We’re up here on the stage, playing at an elite level. There are so many kids watching us and trying to emulate us.”
He also indicated that it’s not hard for players to avoid positive tests for marijuana.
“For guys to get in trouble for drug use … [the league] only tests us two times a year for illegal drugs,” he said. “So guys that are getting caught, you’re not using common sense. You know what I mean?”
Atallah said all opinions are welcome at this week’s discussions in Scottsdale.
“For any player who has a viewpoint, [this] week is the time we’ll be discussing a number of issues,” Atallah said. “Our membership is 2,000 active players who all have a different perspective on a number of issues. It also happens to be a democratic organization.”