Free-agent NFL running back Mike James has made headlines via his request that the league allow him to use marijuana as a painkiller. Most NFL players don’t need permission.
Players who understand how the substance-abuse policy works and when the window for annual substance-abuse testing opens realize that, if they stop smoking in approximately the middle of March and refrain until their once-per-year test (the window opens on 4/20 and lasts until early August), they can smoke with impunity throughout most of training camp, most of the preseason, and all of the regular season and postseason. As long as a given player avoids landing in the substance-abuse program, the player can use marijuana as much as he needs or wants in order to deal with pain or simply because he likes it.
That’s why the NFL Players Association has no reason to make any concessions to the league to change or scrap the marijuana policy. Smart, reasonably disciplined players know how to work the system. Those who end up facing suspensions are either not smart or have a real problem that requires the kind of intervention and rehab that the league’s substance-abuse program provides.
While it’s important to push the league to recognize that marijuana may be considerably safer that prescription medications, the truth remains that marijuana can be (and is) used by a very high percentage of players who know when they need to stop, and when they can start again.
For James, it doesn’t really matter. He’s had four regular-season carries since 2014, and he was out of the league during the 2017 regular season.