By Jim Higdon, co-founder of Cornbread Hemp
Drug testing for THC in professional sports is almost dead, as it should be — but not quite. It still lurks in the corners like a zombie, ready to attack anyone who points at it. The NBA has ended random drug testing, but it still has a policy in place for testing players “for cause,” which keeps those players from advocating for the full elimination of drug testing in the league.
The NBA rightly tests for performance-enhancing drugs that would give players an unfair edge, but THC is not a performance-enhancing drug. The only reason it’s banned in sports is because of a falsehood perpetrated by the federal government that cannabis is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. It is not.
For decades, sports leagues have done the dirty work of cannabis prohibition by insisting that THC is inconsistent with professional athletics, when nothing could be further from the truth. If the NBA imposed a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis use today, there wouldn’t be enough players for a full game.
Some recent estimates suggest that as many as 85% of NBA players use cannabis, yet the NBA still perpetuates the charade that it runs a THC-free workplace. It does not.
Everyone knows this. But still, the leagues and players are locked in a perpetual dance of keeping up the appearance of the THC ban, where players have every possible opportunity to dodge the consequences of that ban, as long as they don’t speak out.
This wink-and-nod system has run its course. Legal marijuana jurisdictions are no longer the exception to the rule. They are the dominant norm in America today. Every team of every sports league is based in a city with some form of legal THC — even those that play in states with no legal marijuana.
The National Football League has 32 teams. Of those, 14 play home games in a state with legal recreational marijuana, 11 in states with medical marijuana, and seven in states with no legal marijuana — the Cowboys, the Texans, the Falcons, the Packers, the Colts, the Titans, and the Panthers.
Major League Baseball has 30 teams. Of those, 16 play home games in a state or province with legal recreational marijuana, 10 in states with medical marijuana, and four in states with no legal marijuana — the Brewers, the Braves, the Rangers, and the Astros.
The National Basketball Association has 30 teams. Of those, 14 play home games in a state or province with legal recreational marijuana, eight in states with medical marijuana, and eight in states with no legal marijuana — the Bucks, the Hornets, the Mavericks, the Spurs, the Rockets, the Hawks, the Grizzlies, and the Pacers.
The National Hockey League has the greatest exposure to legal cannabis of any league because of the number of teams playing home games in Canada, where cannabis is fully legal. Of the 32 teams in the NHL, 22 play home games in a state or province with legal recreational marijuana, seven in states with medical marijuana, and only three in states with no legal marijuana — the Hurricanes, the Stars, and the Predators.
But here’s the thing: even in the 14 states with no legal marijuana, THC is still legal if it’s derived from hemp. It’s been that way ever since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. As long as the THC comes from the hemp plant with no more than 0.3% THC and is made into products that also do not exceed 0.3% THC, then that THC is legal.
And while 0.3% doesn’t sound like much THC, it’s enough to show up on a drug test, and that threatens the job security of any worker subject to THC drug testing. That’s not right because hemp-derived THC is legal under federal law — even for the players of the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Hawks, which are based in states with no legal marijuana.
No worker in America should face consequences for testing positive for a legal substance used outside of the workplace. And it’s not just professional athletes living under this hypocritical cloud. Millions of Americans, from nurses to truck drivers, are afraid of losing their jobs if they test positive for THC after using legal hemp products.
At Cornbread Hemp, our mission is to improve our customers’ quality of life. And these outdated drug test policies against THC are obstacles to that mission. Consequently, we are doing everything in our power to educate and advocate for ending THC testing in the workplace, beginning with professional sports.
We can no longer lie to ourselves about THC. It’s as commonly used as ibuprofen, maybe more so. Maintaining the fiction that professional sports are THC-free is just an act of denial that we can no longer afford.
It’s long past time for sports leagues to acknowledge that their players use THC in ways that do not affect their workplace performance, instead of demanding that their players remain silent so that the league can continue its drug testing charade. It’s time to end THC drug testing in professional sports.
Jim Higdon is co-founder of Cornbread Hemp. He is a native of Kentucky, and holds degrees from Centre College, Brown University, and Columbia University. Jim published Cornbread Mafia in 2012, which led to a journalism career covering Kentucky for the Washington Post and cannabis policy for POLITICO.