Reports circulated this week that the NBA will not be testing players for marijuana this season. Testing for performance-enhancing drugs and other more powerful recreational drugs will still be conducted. This will be a continuation of one of the quieter protocols of the league’s Orlando season, as, according to Bill Simmons, the NBA wasn’t testing for marijuana during play in the bubble. Marijuana has been one of the world’s most popular recreational drugs for generations, and athletes–regardless of their status or pay–are obviously humans who find value in the drug. NBA players, and other athletes in American sports, have been hiding marijuana usage for quite some time. In the past, there were significant repercussions for using the banned substance. Now, with mental health being a prevalent topic and the Coronavirus pandemic putting increased weight on traveling athletes, the league has decided to help players ease their minds. I asked NBA agents what they thought of the new policy, and it was a consensus: it’s about damn time.
“About time,” one player representative told me. “And once this genie is out of the bottle, won’t be able to put it back in.” Clearly, there is some expectation that this policy is here to stay, not just a temporary lift during an incredibly sensitive time.
Another agent confirmed Simmons’ report (which was dropped during an episode of The Lowe Post, I believe): “I feel like they tried it in the bubble and nothing crazy happened so it will be ok. Personally think at least 1/3 of the players do it so why not at least make it so they feel like they don’t have to be strategic about it and use it after their last possible drug test of the season”. The anxiety can be cyclical, as players who have to hide their usage feel the stress of keeping it a secret. Now, they don’t have to keep it a secret.
But, how many players use it? “Guessing 50%,” one agent said. “I think there are many that don’t and never have. But there are many that do and have for a very long time.”
Players use it for different reasons, too. The euphoric feeling of being stoned that has been traditionalized by pop culture is just one. Agents think it helps a variety of issues. “I think it helps guys with anxiety. People don’t realize how much pressure these guys are under to perform in front of huge crowds with millions of people watching around the world…” Of course, marijuana has been popularized for treating pain and anxiety. But, another agent thought it might help settle down typically very active young men. “I think it’ll probably help a lot of guys play better because I would think it would help them with getting more rest.” The agents with whom I spoke offered different purposes for using, but those reasons pointed back to one basic idea: there is belief that using marijuana helps players perform at a higher level. That may seem like an obvious byproduct, but, if the league observes a universal higher level of play than normal, it could be a direct correlation.”
While this policy has been a long time coming, state legislation is still at play. The agents agreed that the messaging behind the policy was, in essence, ‘do what you want, but you still have to answer to state laws if you get caught’. One agent added, “Many states its legal now…so it’s tough to enforce any way”.
The players still have to hide their usages from state legislation, but one thing is for certain: whether it was a key feature of the modified collective bargaining agreement proposed by the National Basketball Players’ Association, or a ‘gift’ from the league, the NBA did right by the players.