NCAA Ends Cannabis Ban for College Athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has made a move that will leave many college athletes feeling more relaxed—literally. In a groundbreaking decision, the NCAA has voted to remove marijuana from its banned substances list for Division I players. Effective immediately, athletes can now indulge without worrying about penalties.

About five months after the NCAA’s Division I Council suggested the rule change, the policy was officially adopted on Tuesday. The council emphasized that cannabis, like alcohol, is not a performance-enhancing drug. So, no, smoking a joint won’t turn you into Usain Bolt, but it might make Netflix a lot more interesting.

This reform builds on a 2022 change that upped the allowable THC limit for college athletes, bringing the NCAA’s rules in line with those of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Josh Whitman, chair of the council, said in a press release, “The NCAA drug testing program is intended to focus on integrity of competition, and cannabis products do not provide a competitive advantage.” Translation: Weed won’t make you faster, stronger, or smarter, but it might make post-game pizza taste better.

Cannabinoids will now be treated like other non-performance-enhancing substances, such as alcohol. The NCAA’s new approach will focus on harm-reduction strategies for problematic cannabis use, prioritizing student-athletes’ health and well-being over punishment. The NCAA even tweeted, “Cannabinoids will be addressed like other non-performance enhancing drugs like alcohol. NCAA members will focus on harm-reduction strategies problematic cannabis use, centering health of student-athletes.”

While this is a huge step for Division I, Divisions II and III are still deliberating the proposal.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, chimed in, saying, “Slowly, surely, America is coming to its senses after 50 years of the failed war on drugs.” He added that removing cannabis from the banned substances list is “only fitting” as Sha’Carri Richardson qualifies for the 2024 Olympics, a triumph she was robbed of four years ago due to a positive THC test.

Historically, college athletes faced postseason testing, with positive results often leading to a season on the sidelines. Officials now aim to focus more on addressing problematic use rather than penalizing players for a one-off indulgence.

The NCAA committee’s recommendation last September highlighted the “ineffectiveness of existing policy” and the importance of moving toward a harm-reduction strategy.

Other sports organizations have also relaxed their marijuana policies. The NFL, for instance, stopped suspending players for marijuana use in 2020 and is researching CBD as a potential alternative to opioids. The UFC has also removed marijuana from its banned substances list, though athletes must still be mindful of state regulations.

While these changes have been welcomed, WADA continues to face criticism for its ongoing cannabis ban, despite pressure from athletes and lawmakers. After U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension in 2021, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and even President Joe Biden called for policy changes.

In a related note, an NFL player recently sued the league and the Denver Broncos for employment discrimination after being fined for a THC-positive test. This just goes to show that while progress is being made, the path to full acceptance is still a bit hazy.

Jaeger, K. (2024, June 26). NCAA votes to remove marijuana from Banned Substances list for college athletes – Marijuana Moment.

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