Dallas Cowboys Owner to NFL: Drop Pot Prohibition

By Kelly Burch 04/07/17

Many players have argued that marijuana offers pain relief without the high risk of addiction that opioids carry. 

Jerry Jones
Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones Photo via YouTube

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys urged fellow NFL team owners to reconsider the league’s ban on marijuana during a private meeting for owners last week. 

According to Pro Football Talk, Jerry Jones wants the league to drop its prohibition on marijuana. Although the drug is legal for recreational use in seven states and medical marijuana is legal in 28, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement forbids players from using marijuana. (The District of Columbia has passed both recreational and medical marijuana laws.) Players who test positive for cannabis can be disciplined with fines and suspensions. 

The inadequacies of the NFL’s policy are made clear in the case of Seantrel Henderson, offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills. Henderson, who has Crohn’s disease and went through two surgeries last year, uses marijuana to control his pain. However, last November he was punished with a 10-game suspension, his second suspension of the season.  

“It will end his career if this keeps happening,” Brian Fettner, Henderson’s agent, told City Lab last year. 

Despite its hard-line stance on marijuana, the NFL makes heavy use of prescription painkillers. Earlier this year, NFL documents obtained by The Washington Post found that in 2012 the league gave 2,213 doses of "controlled medications" to its players, which averages out to six or seven pain pills per player every week of the season. 

“It sounds like an incredible amount of intervention with some pretty risky drugs, some of which, in the case of Vicodin, have a high addiction potential,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and co-founder of the NYU Sports and Society Program. “It makes you think, are the physicians looking out for the health of the players, or are they just trying to keep them on the field?”

Many players have argued that marijuana offers pain relief without the high risk of addiction that opioids carry. 

“Like a lot of other guys, I used cannabis during my playing career because it helps take quite a bit of the pain away,” retired Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe told Leafly. “I’ve seen what happened with a lot of the older guys—in terms of the guys who played during the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were hooked on pain pills, and we all saw how they turned out.”

In January, a players union official said that re-examining the policy is important. 

“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told The Washington Post. “I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”

Even the league seems open to reconsidering the marijuana policy in upcoming negotiations. 

“We’ve had several conversations about this issue and several years ago we did take a less-punitive approach to marijuana,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “That will be one of the subjects in the collective bargaining process, which we’d like to get into sooner rather than later.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.