Eliminating the NCAA’s Marijuana Restriction

By Jaclyn Weiner

The NCAA's policy regarding marijuana does not match the national attitudes regarding the drug. Courtesy of Flickr.

The NCAA’s policy regarding marijuana does not match the national attitudes regarding the drug. Courtesy of Flickr.

The marijuana policy of the NCAA has been under criticism, especially in the past couple of years. It is getting more difficult to justify the testing of college athletes for marijuana use, when the legalization of marijuana has been spreading throughout the states. The policy is outdated and creates more harm than good to student-athletes.

Recently, NCAA punishments to student-athletes have lessened when it comes specifically to marijuana, but the punishments are still quite severe. The individual athletic departments for each school are responsible for administering drug programs, including the severity of punishment for infractions. But the NCAA has a year-round testing program. NCAA tests for marijuana in postseason championships and bowl games for college football. The punishment has changed from a full season suspension to a half-season suspension, which is still incredibly harsh.

The punishments associated with marijuana use are especially strict, considering the sheer amount of college athletes that have admitted to smoking. A 2014 study done by the NCAA’s Research Department found that 22 percent of college athletes admitted to smoking marijuana within the past year. College lacrosse had the highest percentage of players who admitted to smoking marijuana, with a recorded 46.3 percent. If all college athletes who have smoked marijuana were caught and punished, college teams would be decimated.

Also, the percentage of student-athletes who admitted to smoking pot in 2014 and the percentage of student-athletes who admitted to smoking pot in 1984, prior to the NCAA’s drug testing program, are very close. This makes it obvious that the system in place has not had much of an effect.
It is unacceptable that the NCAA’s policies have not changed with the changing climate. Around 23 states have legalized marijuana in some form. Four states, Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia, have all legalized marijuana for recreational use. Additionally, states that have not legalized marijuana as of yet are making moves to decriminalize marijuana-related offenses. When taking this information into consideration, the NCAA’s stance on marijuana can be deemed harsher than the law.

The classes of banned substances by the NCAA include stimulants, anabolic agents, alcohol and beta blockers, diuretics (water pills) and other masking agents, street drugs, anti-estrogens and Beta-2 agonists. This list and many examples of each drug class can be found on the NCAA website, but it is made clear that there is no complete list of banned substances. Punishment is still involved if substances are used outside of the examples listed. Depending on the type of drug, punishments seem to vary.

The NCAA still considers marijuana to be a street drug, but that is clearly untrue in many states across the country. This definition is in contradiction with the law, but marijuana is still listed next to heroin on the list of banned street drugs.

Additionally, the NCAA does not include medicinal marijuana when it comes to medical exceptions, but exceptions are made for student-athletes with a documented medical history that require regular use of other substances that are usually banned by the NCAA. Exceptions may be granted if the drugs are stimulants (including those used to treat ADHD), Beta blockers, Beta-2 agonists, diuretics, peptide hormones, anabolic agents and anti-estrogens. However, no matter the medical condition, student-athletes with medical marijuana prescriptions are not authorized to use marijuana and will still be subject to punishment.

The fact that the NCAA still tests student-athletes for marijuana use and inflicts such harsh punishment when tested positive is perplexing. The system is ineffective and in many cases is in contradiction with the law. We will just have to wait and see if and when the NCAA will make the logical decision to shift its policies on marijuana use.

Jaclyn Weiner, FCRH’18, is a communication and media studies major from Wantagh, New York.


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