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. 


Brown Bear

November 7th, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

I just don't see this ending well. Anything that rides along the politics line always ends up that way.
Now on the actual question or subject I don't see this changing anything. Athletes who want to smoke pot against their organizations/leagues wishes will do so no matter where they live. Being legal in Colorado still doesn't change the fact that it's against the rules of their league/university. I don't see a mass exodus to those states just because of the law change, most athletes think they are above the law already and will do as they please wherever.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:21 AM ^

that I had not considered - the athletes feeling that they are above the law.  I know we recently saw that with Honey Badger on the NCAA level, and we see it all the time in the pros.  I guess I was just thinking that if they wanted to use it with less financial risk of arrest then they might consider moving to those states.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:12 AM ^

You do not have to play sports. Its a privilege not a right. Each governing body can make their own rules and regulations. If you want to partake then you play by these rules. Period. Now, from a professional standpoint where people choose to live and spend their recreational time that obviously should be up to them. Wether they choose to let that effect the rules they agreed upon with those governing bodies they choose to play under that is their choice as well. Whatever those rules are as usual in life its about choices.


November 7th, 2012 at 12:18 PM ^

Your post is well stated. I am part of several voluntary organizations, one of which is job related, which have stipulations about substance use and other actions. Even though I could disregard these directives, I choose not to, as a matter of personal integrity. In one case, I would clearly disqualify myself from my position were I to make certain (legal) choices.

Athletes are in an analogous situation. They have certain rules and guidelines which they can abide by or not. If your employer/team states, "Don't smoke pot or you will lose your job," you have to decide whether that's a risk you want to take. Your employer often has the right to stipulate what you can do, particularly if your actions can affect job performance. A good example would be the stipulation that aircraft pilots cannot drink alcohol in the 4 hours prior to flying. It is generally accepted that drinking alcohol in that time frame could adversely affect job performance for a pilot.

There are at least 4 options as to the position you take:

  1. The action is wrong in and of itself.
  2. The action has been declared illegal, and is wrong because of this declaration.
  3. The action has been declared illegal, and is wrong if you are caught.
  4. The action has been declared illegal, which is irrelevant because the laws don't apply to you (above the law.)

With regards to marijuana use, I suspect most would say that smoking pot isn't wrong in and of itself (as witnessed by the law change in CO & WA.) What makes pot smoking "wrong" is that it has been declared "illegal" or off limits. For many, they choose not to smoke pot, because it is illegal. For some, the legality is a mere nuisance, and the issue is whether or not you are apprehended. For a few individuals (athletes, extremely wealthy individuals, well connected powerful individuals,) the law is ignored with impunity, because of the belief that "no one would dare to arrest me." I wonder if this was the kind of mindset with Terrell Pryor et al at Ohio.

Coming back to the OP, I think most athletes would fall into categories 2 or 3. There are a few idiots who would actually take position 4.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:12 AM ^

kinda impossible for this to not turn into a politics thread, but I'd imagine this has zero effect. Most athletes are not allowed to smoke cigs or drink during the season even if they can do so legally, why would smoking pot be any different. Also, the NCAA is a national institution, and weed usage is still illegal on a federal level. End of story.


November 7th, 2012 at 2:20 PM ^

know about that.  Transporation across states lines certainly is still illegal, and I am assuming that distribution of it is still illegal in these states, but I don't think simple possession and use of personal amounts is a federal criminal violation.  If it was a federal law a state could not pass a law making it legal.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:14 AM ^

I have yet to hear a reasonable argument as to how this is detrimental to athletes, especially when compared to alcohol.

Also, this is a motherfucking amazing day! Excuse me while I go celebrate!


November 7th, 2012 at 11:15 AM ^

I can't speak for every sport, but almost every hockey player I know partakes in the green herb at least occasionally in the off-season, and several during the season (maybe twice a month give or take). Once you get down to the AHL and ECHL you have several guys who do it every day. It just isn't seen as a big deal.

While it is against the rules of the league, they don't test for it and when it shows up on a test, the worst that will happen is they'll give you a verbal warning. If they tested and enforced a ban on marijuana in the NHL, they wouldn't have any players left.

Just think about this...when was the last time you heard about a professional athlete in one of the 4 major team sports getting in trouble for testing positive for pot? Never, it doesn't happen. Pot related issues only arise when players are stupid enough to get busted with it in their cars or out in public, ala the Detroit Lions players.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

in the NFL was the only example I could recall or easily find for getting suspended by a pro league for pot usage.  You're definitely right it doesn't happen a lot, which was why I was thinking that all of the sudden the Denver and Seattle teams might get an influx of free agents.


November 7th, 2012 at 1:48 PM ^

Ricky Williams had other problems that made it so he was on a shorter leash if I recall correctly. That may end up happenning, where it's used by the NCAA or whatever organization to add negative consequences, but for most players it's not enforced.


November 8th, 2012 at 10:47 AM ^

of interviewing the director of scouting department for a NFL team last year.  He mentioned that if you take player's name off the board for failed drug test on pot, there almost literally wouldn't be anybody left on the board.  He estimated about 85% of the players have gotten caught with pot or failed pot test before ever taking a first snap as a NFL player.  He said what matters the most is the frequency and the time in which they failed the team.  The less frequent, the better.  The earlier the time, the better because if you got caught early on and never failed again, it tells him that he matured.

Look at Calvin Johnson.  He admitted to smoking pot at GT in NFL combine interview.  Did it deter him from getting drafted at #2 overall? No.  Did it deter his success in the NFL? No.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

It'll still be a banned NCAA substance like Sudafed. Players are regularly drug tested and held to NCAA standards, not just Federal, State, or Local laws.

While a hypothetical Colorado football player can now use marijuana without breaking Colorado laws, he would still be breaking NCAA rules and subject to punishment.

This is Michigan

November 7th, 2012 at 12:19 PM ^

How regular do you think the NCAA tests players?

Yearly, the NCAA only tests a handful of players from a select number of teams at each school. They also test a handful of players from teams that make it to the post season.

Each school also has their own set of policies and although they tend to test more players the penalty is far less egregious. First offense at most schools is a slap on the wrist and a call to their parents.

Personally, I was not tested one time by either my institution or the NCAA in the 5 years I participated as a student-athlete.


November 7th, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

We were drug tested every year during our on site school physical before our season started before we could participate in any activities. 

We were never tested additionally for any end of the season tournament participation, etc; but that didn't mean we were not subject to any random testing that they would have decided to do.

I'm just glad they didn't test for alcohol consumption on the weekends!



November 7th, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

I don't think pro athletes will be more likely to want to play for Denver or Seattle teams. If they want to smoke weed theyre going to do it regardless of wether its legal or not in the state they live in.


November 7th, 2012 at 11:26 AM ^

The only correct answer is you'll have to wait to see what the federal response to this will be.

For medical marijuana, the US DOJ  had a long standing memo (the Ogden Memo) that stated the use of marijuana remained a violation of the Controlled Substances Act but it would not be a priority to enforce that particular law except in egregious circumstances.  That memo was repealed and replaced  in 2011 and there is some concern in states that allow for medical marijuana sales/use that users, growers, and distributors could be prosecutred.  For this issue - a matter of recreational use - I would expect even more consequences. 

In all likelihood, these state laws will go down in the history books as symbolic attempts to show support for changing federal policy and little else. 


November 7th, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

So do you think the Feds will just give up their power and let states do whatever they please, even if it's in violation of federal law?  In this case, I would be proven wrong. 

Or will the federal law change to allow for free use of marijuana?  If federal law changes, these state laws helped achieve what they were intended to achieve - to show the federal goverment that this is something the people want.  In this case, I think I'm right.  These state laws didn't override federal law so they would be the symbollic first step towards a national policy change. 


November 7th, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

I could definitely see the federal government declining to do anything for a long period of time. I haven't seen anything that would indicate support for national legalization, and I haven't seen anything from the administration/DOJ that makes me think prosecuting these cases is something that would actually become commonplace. I agree that eventually something will have to happen on their end, but that could be a long time from now, and could happen in a country with pot legal (in varying degrees) in like thirty states.


November 7th, 2012 at 3:17 PM ^

I'd suggest a simple google search and compare the 2009 DOJ "Ogden Memoradum" with the 2011 "Cole Memorandum".  I believe you'll find, after comparing, that there is a fairly substantial shift in policy directive to federal law enforcement agencies as it relates to enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. 

I don't have any links made of gold, but here is one from last year that does a nice job summarizing the shift:


And here is one that describes the uptick in enforcement in California, how a political figure in that state was upset about it, and how that political figure showed her displeasure with another highly recognizable political figure (trying to stay as innocuous as possible here)



November 7th, 2012 at 2:56 PM ^

Reason for that is simple, I don't have a personal opinion.  HOWEVER - I  work as a City Planner for a suburb of Phoenix and I was responsible for writing my city's Medical Marijuana Ordinance  when the voters here approved medical marijuana a couple years back.  I had to perform a ton of research and preparation for that, of course, so I probably have a bit more knowledge than the average poster when it comes to this topic.  Figured I may be able to lend some insight and nothing more....