Back in March, Smoke Signals wrote about the state of cannabis in the NFL. The league has a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis, with a cannabis-related arrest or positive urine test costing players upward of $500,000, depending on salary, and resulting in a suspension of one to four games, up to a quarter of the season.
Despite the harshness of the penalty for using cannabis, the league's testing regime seems to involve a wink-and-nod approach. Players face a single test for cannabis before the beginning of the season. If they pass and there are no other reasons for a drug test (like a drunk driving arrest), the players face no further scrutiny of their cannabis habits until the next annual test.
Most players apparently manage to abstain for long enough to pass the annual cannabis test, because former players and coaches say that 30 to 40 percent of active players use cannabis regularly. Some of that use is no doubt "recreational," but, as Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe so eloquently put it, when you play NFL football "your job automatically gives you the symptom of chronic pain." Monroe has been outspoken in expressing his opinion that players should be allowed to use cannabis to treat chronic pain. (See eugenemonroe.com)
The Ravens released Monroe recently, and even their own website seemed to suggest a link to Monroe's activist statements. "I promise you, he does not speak for the organization," the team's head coach said, after noting that Monroe was "...the first active NFL player to openly campaign for the use of medical marijuana. The Ravens did not rally behind the cause."
At the time of his release, Monroe was also injured and set to earn $6.5 million next season, which many consider sufficient reason to let him go. So whether the release was caused partially by his cannabis advocacy is questionable. Monroe seems to think there was a connection, however. "I can't say for sure whether or not my stance on medical cannabis was the reason the Ravens released me," he said. "However, as I've said in the past, they have distanced themselves from me and made it clear that they do not support my advocacy."
In Monroe's case, the true test of whether the NFL is retaliating for his stance on cannabis will come this summer, when teams will finish off signing veteran free agents to plug the gaps in their rosters. Most experts agree that Monroe is still a viable player, and so on merit alone he should land another job for next season.
With several high-profile retired players advocating for medical cannabis in the NFL, the continued silence of active players other than Monroe is telling. If it is the result of speech-chilling actions by the league, it's working. "I don't foresee a change in (the cannabis policy) in the short term," says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.