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CBA nuggets: Marijuana use by NFL players in 2020 and beyond

A series of articles for the half-dozen people who care about the details of the labor agreement

As nearly every NFL fan is aware, the NFLPA and the owners negotiated a new agreement this offseason — one that narrowly passed the players vote, and will now control the game of football for the next 11 years. While the minutiae of legal agreements can seem boring, the fine print of this particular document very literally has a huge impact on the NFL, the players, owners and fans. Since we have some time on our hands unencumbered by mini-camps, OTAs or training camps, it seemed like a good time to explore the changes that the new CBA brings, and maybe some interpretation of how it may affect the league going forward.

Click here to access other articles in the CBA Nuggets series

Today’s article deals with changes to the NFL’s drug policy as it relates to marijuana use.

As every Redskins fan is aware from cases involving players like former Redskins LT Trent Williams and former TE Fred Davis, under the 2011 CBA, players who tested positive for marijuana use could be placed on a ‘watch list’ of sorts, and subjected to increasing levels of testing, followed by suspensions of four games, ten games or longer.

Fred Davis — it seems incredible now that he was franchise-tagged by the Redskins in 2012, RG3’s rookie season — received an indefinite suspension from the league in the 2014 off-season. He sat out the year, and, despite signing with the Patriots after being reinstated in the 2015 off-season, never played in the NFL again.

The old CBA’s guidelines were much stricter than they will be from 2020 onward.

The old rules under the 2011 CBA

Under the former CBA, NFL players with no previous violations were tested once in the offseason. During the regular season, 10 players per team were randomly selected to be tested each week.

  • A positive test meant a referral to the substance abuse program
  • A second violation resulted in a fine of two game checks
  • a third violation was a fine of four game checks
  • a fourth violation was a four-game suspension
  • a fifth violation was a 10-game suspension
  • a sixth violation resulted in a one-year ban.

For this reason, fans have come to view known marijuana use as a “red flag” on a player. But those days may be gone for good.


The 5 O’Clock Club (29 June 17): Does the NFL need to change its stance on pot smoking?

The new rules under the 2020 CBA

  • The new CBA will reduce the testing period from four months to the two weeks at the start of training camp.
  • A new threshold for a positive test will also be put in place, raising the allowed amount of THC from 35 nanograms to 150.
  • The league is moving away from a punishment approach and toward providing help for those that need it.
  • If a player tests positive during the two week stretch of training camp, his test is reviewed by a board of medical professionals that has been appointed by both the players and league. The board then decides if the player needs treatment.
  • The new CBA eliminates suspensions for positive marijuana tests.

What all these changes amount to is the elimination of marijuana use as a “red flag” with regard to player discipline, as players will no longer face suspensions as a result of personal use of marijuana uncovered by testing. Any given fan might see it as a red flag on character, but in a United States where the drug is increasingly being decriminalized, its use is no longer a threat to an NFL player’s livelihood, and no longer raises the possibility of the player missing games due to suspensions for marijuana use.