The National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) are helping to usher in a new era in sports and cannabis with a new, tentative deal.
While the deal must still be ratified by players and team governors before it’s official, it’s looking like the NBA will not only remove cannabis from its banned substances list for players—it also plans to allow players to promote and invest in cannabis companies, as reported by The Athletic.
These new details emerge in a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that came together last weekend. The agreement would formally codify the league’s decision to temporarily suspend cannabis testing for the past three seasons, officially removing cannabis drug testing requirements for athletes.
The NBA’s New Path Forward
The move is a long time coming. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver signaled back in 2020 that the Association’s temporary policies could one day become permanent after initially suspending cannabis testing.
“We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now,” Silver said at the time. “I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”
In 2021, Weedmaps also announced its partnership with NBA star Kevin Durant, teaming up for a multi-year partnership aimed at destigmatizing cannabis and showcasing the plant’s potential in aiding “athlete wellness and recovery.”
While other professional sports leagues have steadily moved in a similar direction, the NBA stands apart with its aim to let players promote and invest in cannabis companies. The deal would also allow players to invest in NBA and WNBA teams as well as sign non-gambling endorsement deals with sports betting companies.
Reigniting the Conversation of Cannabis and Sports in the NBA
The conversation of cannabis and sports has reached new heights as the industry continues to grow. Retired athletes like Ricky Williams have opened up about their cannabis use and its benefits during their careers and beyond, especially as it relates to gameplay-related symptoms like chronic pain or achy joints.
In a 2019 interview with High Times, Williams said the NFL is improving with its approach to cannabis, though he believed they could also do more.
“The NFL is a powerful corporation that carries a lot of clout, and if they did modify their approach more significantly, it could create a lot of change in the world,” Williams said.
Sha’Carri Richardson notably sparked renewed interest in cannabis policy in sports in 2021, after she was suspended and unable to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for testing positive for THC following the death of her mother. She’s said that she would feel “blessed and proud” if her story sparked broader policy change for other athletes.
The topic of cannabis and sports also came up in 2022 after U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner was detained in Russia over the possession of a THC vape.
As athletes continue to open up about their cannabis use as it relates to their health and wellness, research continues to affirm that cannabis and cannabinoid products have the potential to aid in athletic training and recovery, though more research is needed on the topic as a whole.
Progress for Cannabis in Sports
As the NBA takes the lead in this conversation, other major sporting leagues have steadily moved in a similar direction.
During the 2021 offseason, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed on a change to the league’s cannabis policy. The updated policy says that players must test for cannabis just once a year, at the start of training camp. Previously, players who failed the test were subject to lengthy suspension, but now they are only subject to a fine.
In 2022, the NFL also authorized $1 million in grants for two studies that would examine the efficacy of cannabis and its compounds to manage pain in football players and provide neuroprotection from concussions.
MLB has also taken a more progressive stance in the last several years. In 2020, it clarified that players would not be punished for using cannabis, just a few months after removing cannabis from its list of banned substances. Prior to the change, players who tested positive for THC were referred to mandatory treatment, and those who failed to comply faced a fine of up to $35,000.
In 2021, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced it would no longer punish fighters for positive cannabis tests.
The official NBPA Twitter account shared the news release announcing the tentative deal on April 1, which confirms that “specific details will be made available once a term sheet is finalized.”