As we have reported previously, the US is one of the most liberal countries in terms of the use of cannabis for medicinal use. In fact, it is legal for medical purposes in 29 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. A further 17 states allow the use of the drug without its psychoactive component.
Of course, in light of the war on opioids, there is a distinct feeling that relaxing the law on cannabis may throw a lifeline to at least some people who suffer chronic pain.
Now, there has been a further challenge to traditional attitudes towards cannabis use, this time in the sporting arena.
Back in 2013, NFL player, Mike James, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered an injury to his left ankle during a game. Prescribed painkillers, he developed a dependency upon them so instead, encouraged by his wife, he turned to cannabis, which is legal for medicinal use in his home state of Florida.
Interviewed by CNN, he explained that suddenly “my pain subsided…I never had something where I could be coherent and still have pain relief,” he said.
Currently, both the NFL and the NFL Players Association prohibit active players from using cannabis as part of their policy on substance abuse. The only exception to this is a ‘therapeutic use exemption’ where it can be proved that the player requires an otherwise banned substance to treat a diagnosed medical condition.
In March 2018, James became the first NFL player to apply for a therapeutic use exemption for cannabis. In fact, this is believed to be the first such application in any American sporting league. In May, his application was rejected on the grounds that he could not prove indisputably that he suffered chronic pain. This leaves him in an impossible situation; physically unable to play without medication and banned from playing with.
Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
James has been assisted in his fight for exemption by the group, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. A spokesperson said “Mike’s case is such a perfect example of why cannabis needs to be made available, because he’s really not a candidate for opioids,” they said. “So this is a safe alternative for him.”
James’ application for a cannabis exemption follows the revelation that 52% of retired NFL players reported using opioids during their sporting careers and of those, 71% reported misusing those drugs. James himself estimates more than half of NFL players have either used or are using cannabis, but he is the first to potentially end his career by being open about his use.