The NBA is extending its policy of not randomly drug testing players for marijuana for the 2020-2021 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. And insiders suspect that the relaxed cannabis rules will continue indefinitely.
Marijuana testing was first suspended earlier this year as players finished out their season in the so-called “bubble” arena in Orlando. But as first reported by freelance journalist Ben Dowsett on Thursday, the league and the players’ union have agreed to maintain that policy, at least for the next season.
“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,” an NBA spokesperson said.
But pressure has been mounting on the league to end testing for marijuana permanently.
Michele Roberts, the head of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) who also joined the board of the major cannabis company Cresco Labs this year, predicted in a recent interview that the formal change could come as early as “next season.”
“We’re not going to expose our players to unnecessary risks,” she told Dowsett in a piece for GQ. “And it is not necessary to know whether our players are positive for marijuana.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t ruled out adopting new policies on marijuana testing, but he’s said that the league needs to proceed carefully so as not to send a wrong message to young people. He’s also voiced support for exploring the medical potential of cannabis.
“At the end of the day, I think we all agree that, whether or not marijuana is a legal substance, just like with alcohol, you still have to teach young people how to use a substance like that appropriately and responsibly and so it doesn’t overwhelm your life,” he said. “So, it’s a complicated issue.”
While the NBA won’t be subjecting players to random drug testing for THC, they will continue to test “for cause” cases where players have histories of substance use, for example.
If the NBA does ultimately end marijuana testing, it would be another example of evolving drug policies within national sports leagues. Earlier this year, the MLB announced that players would no longer be tested for cannabis, though they’re barred from being sponsored by marijuana companies.
The NFL also made the decision to end suspensions for positive drug tests as well as limiting the testing window.