The NBA’s Marijuana Testing Program Won’t Be Around Much Longer, Says Union Chief

Roberts was drawn to Cresco in large part due to its efforts on the social front. In 2019, the company became the first in the cannabis field to launch a Social Equity & Seed Development (SEED) program aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity in the industry. The effort focused on several areas, including access and engagement for communities of color plus expungement efforts for past marijuana convictions. It was a way to not just enter the space, but to make the kind of difference she desired within it.

The timing turned out to be perfect. Within just a few short weeks, the unique circumstances of the NBA playoffs allowed Roberts to enter the same fight on behalf of her players.

The move to suspend testing in the bubble was bargained relatively quickly between the league and players’ association, sources say. The choice to maintain the suspension into the upcoming season is largely meant to minimize contacts and maintain COVID safety—or at least, that’s the party line. “Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse,” said league spokesman Mike Bass. 

To Roberts, though, it’s a clear sign of things to come. Far from a one-time event, she’s confident that “in the next CBA, maybe even next season,” the removal of random marijuana testing for NBA players will be permanent. She points to leagues like the NFL and MLB, which have already made similar moves despite having a much less progressive reputation than the NBA.

“We’re not going to expose our players to unnecessary risks,” Roberts said, ostensibly referring to COVID precautions. Her follow-up applies to non-pandemic times, though: “And it is not necessary to know whether our players are positive for marijuana.”

Roberts obviously doesn’t have singular control over this. Issues like these have to be collectively bargained between the league and player’s association, with multiple league sources confirming that dialogue about a permanent elimination of testing remains ongoing.

These kinds of arrangements often come with “give-backs,” as those in the league term them, where the side pushing for the change offers a concession of their own to the other in exchange. But that might not be necessary here, largely because Roberts’ support isn’t the only significant piece of momentum the cause has going for it.

Public perception is a real thing, for one. The NBA has leaned ever-further into its position as the most progressive sports league, and trailing other North American sports leagues to a move that’s clearly backed by a majority of the population is uncharacteristic.

Then there’s the health side, which could be the element that gets the league over the top here. Research into both THC and CBD for pain relief and recovery has become more prominent in recent years, to the point where it’s crossed over into mainstream society. Meanwhile, the opioid crisis that’s plagued the country for years has raised awareness about the dangers of far stronger medically-prescribed painkillers than marijuana.

“I know these guys play in pain, live in pain, almost as a matter of course,” Roberts says of her players. “They don’t want to take a lot of drugs that they could perfectly legally take from their trainers, because they’re aware much of that stuff is highly addictive.”

Marijuana could be a big part of the answer. As the country at large takes a more and more progressive stance on the subject, with well over half the states now boasting some kind of legal marijuana program (medical or recreational), the potential for improved research into the true clinical benefits of these substances is high.

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