OTish: Legal change impact on sports in CO & WA

Submitted by MikeCohodes on November 7th, 2012 at 11:04 AM

First off - NO POLITICS - this thread is to discuss the impact on sports at both the NCAA and pro level of the recent law change in CO and WA from last night.  I cleared this with the mods on Twitter before posting and as long as we keep it to sports, this topic is fine.  This thread is not to discuss the pros/cons of pot laws themselves, the impact of these laws on federal drug policy, whether or not drugs are even bad or not, or the politics behind such laws in the first place.  Keep it to sports only or risk the mods' wrath.


That being said, as we know last night CO & WA legalized recreational pot.  I am curious as to what impact if any this will have on sports in those states.  Since it is still illegal on the federal level, a player still risks major punishments if they choose to partake of the drug.

On the NCAA level - pot is still a banned drug by the NCAA.  Unless they change the NCAA regulations (which I think is unlikely barring a federal law change), a player busted with pot or one that fails a drug test still faces a 1 year competition ban for their first offense and loses a year of eligibility.  (LINK to NCAA drug policy)  I'd think that a player that is serious about their athletics would have to be pretty foolish to risk losing their ability to play the sport.  The only thing I'm sure of is that people will make even more jokes about why someone would go to play in CO or WA in the future, but I really don't see this having too much of an impact on those states' collegiate teams because the coaches will have to be idiots to not hammer home just what the player stands to lose if they use pot.  I'm sure the first couple of year long suspensions will further drive home the point.

On the professional level though, I can see this having more of an impact.  I can see more pro athletes buying property in CO or WA, and/or suddenly viewing Denver or Seattle as desirable teams to play for, and I wouldn't be surprised if we hear of an increase of arrests of players in the offseason on federal drug charges.  And altough the NBA supposedly has banned players from doing drugs, a number of players have admitted to using pot in the offseason (or some even during the season) without any punishment from the NBA.  The NFL is harsher, suspending players for failing drug tests (Ricky Williams for one example) but I'm sure there are probably many players there using it as well.  Not so sure on the NHL or MLB in terms of usage by players or punishments from the leagues. 

What are your thoughts on this?  Will we suddenly see a flood of pro talent head to Seattle and Denver?  How many NCAA players will get nailed for failing a test?  I'm curious on everyone's thoughts, and remember, no politics, sports only. 



November 7th, 2012 at 11:29 AM ^

I dont know about the impact on football but i can tell you that the next time I want to go on a ski vacation I'm heading for the Rockies baby!

I think the balance of power in the Utah vs Colorado ski debate just took a major shift.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:29 AM ^

I know it is a banned substance by the NCAA, but isn't it up to each school's athletic department if they actually test their athletes or not?  I thought the actual drug testing was optional, so if a school chooses not to test their athletes then it would be very unlikely for an athlete to get caught smoking.  Is this still true?  Does anyone know the policies at universities in CO and WA?

His Dudeness

November 7th, 2012 at 11:30 AM ^

It is basically legal in every state that passed the medicinal use law anyway. If you don't know of a doctor that will issue anyone a medicinal use card then you aren't looking very hard. Cool that it is completely legal in WA and CO. I am very shocked it didn't pass in OR because... well yea... it's OR.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:40 AM ^

If you read the article, it appears as if the Feds will be stepping up their raids.  The guy smoking a joint won't be the one prosecuted, but the dispensaries and growers for the "legal" medicinal pot seem as if they will be targeted.  So you'll have to go back to buying it off the street, like people have for 100 years before. 

LSA Aught One

November 7th, 2012 at 11:51 AM ^

Nostalgia.  It's like  buying peanuts from a vendor at the stadium vs. the store.  They may be the same peanuts, but they taste better when you buy them from the vendor.  That said, this is a silly argument.  The federal law still says it is illegal.  Companies (NCAA and NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL are all companies, after all) will continue to test for it and will continue to discipline as they have in the past. 


November 7th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

Just to clarify, the WA law makes it legal only for those 21 or older. So if you are a freshman, sophomore or junior who is 18, 19 or 20 you would be still be subject to a minor in possession type charge such as there is for alcohol.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

1. Will it really change anything? It's not like anyone was quaking in their boots about smoking pot in any state because the government is on the case.

2. Pot is still on the NCAA's list of banned substances.

3. Unless I'm very wrong about this, it's my understanding that selling marijuana is still a federal crime, which is the main thing about states passing these laws. The FBI can still go after marijuana store owners in those states. They occasionally prosecute medicinal marijuana guys already--and I think the Supreme Court sided with the FBI in a case. I gotta read up again because this is all coming from when Michigan was decriminalizing and I read up on it so I'm several years out of date.

4. Even if it's legal, pot still makes you less healthy, more lethargic, less focused, and even if you may be more thoughtful that doesn't really help with a martial pursuit like sports. Lots of athletes smoke pot, and the same will continue to do so. However a coach who recruits based on "in our state it's legal!" is lending tacit support to an activity that is detrimental to his team. If Michigan's drinking age was 19, I bet MSU and Michigan could have access to kids who make life decisions based on how easy it is to obtain alcohol for two years, but how much can you build a program on a person like that, or by encouraging drinking? Maybe there's an opening here for, say, Colorado State or Washington State to recast their programs as the hippie team--certainly USC under Carroll did okay recruiting the kids impressed by stardom and being members of the Hollywood lifestyle. However the efficacy of "We're the Pot Program" as a recruiting tool is probably far outweighed by the negatives of a team full of pot-heads.


November 7th, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

The wikipedia page outlines what Amendment 64 holds.


Basically, wholesale sale is still illegal, but there is no longer a prohibition against usage, small-scale cultivation, and "gifting" of small amounts to others.  And while the federal government does have the right under the Commerce Clause to regulate the distribution of marijuana, even medicinal, I've read a couple of statements from high-ranking government administrators that basically said it would not be a "priority" of the federal government to punish people who used small amounts of marijuana permissible in their state.

The funny thing is, I never smoked pot and have no desire.  But the OP's question does have merit because it apparently affects quite a few people.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:59 AM ^

Like Butterfield says above, it depends how the feds respond. But the main avenue for influence, IME, is parents who tell their pot-smoking athletic children to go west, young men, in order to minimize the chances that they get caught. If the feds don't step up enforcement enough to offset the vacuum of local enforcement, it'll be easier, ceteris paribus, to smoke without consequences in those states. I guess the NCAA could move to require increased testing in states with legalized recreational drug use to fill the vacuum, but I don't see it happening.


November 7th, 2012 at 12:49 PM ^

I have a hard time believing this will change an athlete's behavior, but it probably will just change the extent to which one can be punished by the school (at least public schools) and authorities. 

With few exceptions, private organizations can impose whatever rules they want on their members.  Now, if the NCAA suddenly allowed recreational pot usage, THAT would be momentous.  And pretty awesome.


November 7th, 2012 at 4:44 PM ^

I wish I could remember where I heard it, but I have a short story:

Someone was high at work, and his boss came around to confront him on it. The pothead, thinking he had outsmarted the boss, whipped out a medical marijuana card and said "hey, I have a prescription, you can't say I can't smoke." The boss came back with "you're legally allowed to drink too, but not on the job. You're fired.'

I don't think the laws will have much, if any, effect on people moving toward the states that legalized pot. It's still against federal law, still included in drug tests of most companies, and still has a significant mind-altering effect, that does not help productivity. Businesses and schools will make sure that pot smoking does not become any more prevalent than it already is.


November 8th, 2012 at 12:26 AM ^

Even though its now legal in those states.... wont have much impact on corporate america. Airline Pilots / School bus Drivers / Train engineer / surgeon / Day Care workers / Forklift guy at Home Depot. Pretty much any job that involves decision making where a delayed reaction can cause a tire fire will be a "No Fly Zone" (just like alcohol). Insurance Companies will demand drug / alcohol screens or wont Insure the business to begin with or fully cover a claim post incident with a positive test. Thus I wouldnt see the NCAA openly permitting its use either. Those same insurance companies cover athletes catastrophic injuries. (Example: Doctor on the sideline unable to tell if a player has a concussion or head injury because guy is also a pot head and the drug is making it hard for the doctor to make a diagnosis)

my 2 cents


November 7th, 2012 at 5:49 PM ^

Americans for Safe Access vs DEA over the schedule 1 classification could have a significant impact on how this all plays out as far as federal involvement, raids, etc. With regards to sports at the end of the day the school/team/NCAA/NFL can make whatever rules they please and players can either adhere to those rules or face the consequences. I don't think we'll see any rule changes unless recreational use is legalized nationwide like alcohol. I definitely don't see it changing anything at the college level since both states have set a minimum age of 21.


November 7th, 2012 at 6:05 PM ^

players feeling like they're above the law, it's not very difficult to get away with smoking weed. Keep small quantities in your home and use it at home and there's about a 0% chance you'll get in trouble unless cops bust in your home for other reasons. 

D.C. Dave

November 7th, 2012 at 6:16 PM ^

This law will have no impact on professional athletes, who have agreed in their collective bargaining agreements that marijuana is a banned substance and they can be suspended for it if they test positive. They have a signed contract with their employers that specifically bans marijuana and the law won't change that.

Same thing for college athletes, Olympic athletes, etc. -- the rules governing them prohibit the use of marijuana.

It does not matter whether the athletes are on the job or not. They cannot use it.

The DEA today said the law changes nothing in their view: It remains against federal law to possess, use or cultivate pot.

What we can expect in Colorado and Washington in the short term is.... nothing, at least until more of this is sorted out. What is most likely to happen is those state governments will be talking to the feds about how the feds will react as the implementation of this law proceeds. One could imagine the governor of Colorado letting someone try to open up a retail marijuana outlet, even though he knows the feds will come right in and shut it down. Turning enforcement over to the feds protects him politically because the voters in his state have said they don't want the state to enforce it. So when he says he will honor the will of the voters, that really means nothing.

The feds typically do not prosecute marijuana cases unless it is a distribution charge involving a large quantity -- they leave the minor cases to the states. But if a state is declaring it no longer will enforce it, most analysts expect the federal government to sue Colorado and Washington on the grounds that a state law cannot supercede federal law.

This is very similar to the Arizona immigration law in some respects, though the marijuana case will law actually be more clearcut in favor of the feds. In the case of Arizona, the Supreme Court split because it was a case in which Arizona was seeking to enforce a state law on the grounds that, in the view of Jan Brewer anyway,  the feds had failed to enforce the same law.

This is a case of a state in direct conflict with a federal law. The feds' potential actions could take many forms, from pursuing busts and criminal cases themselves to simply challenging the law in court and preventing it from being enacted until a federal judge decides. But I would say there is no chance of the feds just letting this go or the NBA, NFL, NCAA, MLB, USOC or any other sport governing body allowing it for athletes in those two states.




November 7th, 2012 at 6:44 PM ^

I don't think legalizing weed means that suddenly there will be a huge increase in people smoking it. It's not like it was that hard to purchase in the first place, especially if you're a professional athlete.

D.C. Dave

November 7th, 2012 at 9:06 PM ^

It doesn't look like the leagues or the NCAA care what the  voters decided. It's still banned.

But this makes sense. There's no way the sports leagues would ever lead this charge. If the U.S. culture changes over time, they'll follow a long. But this is a long way from that.




November 7th, 2012 at 10:04 PM ^

These new ones are unlikely to affect corporate/organizational rules. You can bet that companies like WalMart will be heading to those states' supreme courts to get decisions on whether the new laws mean they cannot fire for drug test failure related to this particular drug. That's up in the air.

My understanding of the NCAA rules is that the universities administer the tests. The universities may decide that they want to test the legal waters in the same way that large companies will, or they may decide to follow the intent of the new laws and simply not test student atheletes for marijuana (or give plenty of warning when they make a show for the NCAA).

Pro teams will be much more like corporate drug testing, but they could follow the same path of forewarning. The fundamental problem with testing for marijuana is that the test does not indicate whether the person being tested is under the influence when the testing occurs. With most commonly used recreational drugs, a person won't test positive for use within a few hours or days. With marijuana, a person could test positive weeks after last use. I would think that universities would prefer that the athelets not be high on anything during practice and games, but it's not currently possible to determine that for marijuana.

So under the regime of these new laws, we may also see multiple law suits filed by individuals, groups, and/or unions to try and stop the testing based on the fact that the individual may use a legal (by the state law) substance and be punished for it when that use had no affect on performance or mental capacity at the time of testing.

Lastly, the matter will be significantly complicated by federal law and whether the DoJ decides to step in and start arresting people on federal charges, something that currently is usually reserved for large amounts. All this is a long way of saying: it's likely to be kind of messy for quite some time.


November 7th, 2012 at 10:19 PM ^

on your very good post here: drug tests in college athletics are administered by both the school and the NCAA. The NCAA has random drug screenings throughout the three seasons they sponsor sports in (the odds of getting tested are extremely low, however, and pretty much no athlete I've met is worried about getting tested by the NCAA) as well as giving random tests at their championship events, the first round of March Madness, for example. If an athlete tests positive here, they face fairly severe NCAA sanctions, such as a year-long competition ban. Most colleges and universities have additional testing procedures that are only subject to their own rules.

Long story short, Colorado's AD could make a policy to not test for marijuana, or make the punishment for testing positive very lenient (they have to do something if they see it, marijuana is considered a performance enhancing drug by the NCAA), but the NCAA will still come down on athletes that test positive.