Adam Silver: NBA’s concern with marijuana not about recreational and offseason use, but abuse and in-season use

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A couple years ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he saw no need to change the league’s marijuana policy:

  • First violation: No penalty
  • Second violation: $25,000 fine.
  • Third violation: Five-game suspension
  • Additional violations: Suspension of five more games than previous suspension

But he now sounds far more open to revising it.

Silver, in an interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

It’s something that we are talking to Michele Roberts and the players association about, about what our policy should be.

You might be surprised about it. But when I’ve talked to players about it, I think they have mixed feelings, some players. I think it’s not as much about what guys do in the summer. If they want to smoke pot in the summer, whatever. It’s legal in a lot of states, to your point. No issue. I do think there’s a little bit of concern about some of the pot smoking in-season. I think it’s a team sport, and I think part of the reason we have the rules in place, there was a time not so long ago when there were a group of players who felt – because, ultimately, the players association has to agree on any testing – that maybe there was too much pot being smoken in-season.

And, look, my personal views, whether it’s pot or alcohol, I think it’s a sedative in certain ways. It’s certainly not a performance-enhancing drug. Let me put it that way.

One of the things I’ve been talking more about in the last year is mental wellness of our players.

And look, some guys are smoking pot just in the same way a guy would take a drink. And it’s like whatever. “Smoking pot, I’m just using it to come down a little bit or I just want to relax.” No big deal. No issue. And I think it’s the reason why it has been legalized in a lot of states. And from that standpoint, if that were the only issue, maybe we’re behind the times in our program.

On the other hand, there’s also guys in the league who are smoking a lot of pot. And then the question is, why are you smoking a lot of pot? And that’s where mental wellness comes in. Because I’ve also talked directly to players who say, “I’m smoking a lot of pot, because I have a lot of anxiety. And I’m struggling.”

And if that’s the reason they’re smoking a lot of pot – and by the way, alcohol is perfectly legal, and obviously we don’t have a ban against alcohol. We don’t test against alcohol, unless we have a reason to believe there’s a problem. But we don’t want guys to drink a lot, either. And I think if we hear that a guy is drinking a lot – whether it’s the players association, the team or the league – we’re approaching that guy and saying, “Can we help you?”

First and foremost, we want guys to be in great shape. By the way, smoking isn’t great for your lungs.

I feel sometimes that, “It’s uncool that the league still tests for marijuana.” And I think that’s not exactly where the state of the science on marijuana is.

I think that, clearly to the extent it has medicinal qualities, those are things that we should be looking at. Where it’s in terms of pain relief, of course. And that’s something that’s being studied, not just by us. The NFL recently announced they’re studying that issue, as well. And we should look at it.

Last part of this, I think when we change our policy, we have to be very careful, because clearly we’re going to be sending a message to a lot of young people. And 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.

So, it’s a complicated issue.

There are plenty of unhealthy things – drinking, smoking cigarettes, eating unhealthily, spending too much time in front of screens and on and on – the league allows. It seems silly to draw a hard line at marijuana.

Who wants that?

Do fans care? The increased legalization of marijuana suggests no.

Do owners care? It seems they’re already employing a lot of players who use marijuana.

Do players care? Silver echoed former commissioner David Stern, who said the league began testing for marijuana after players complained of other players playing high. But players probably don’t want their teammates playing drunk, either. And nobody is calling for alcohol testing.

It’s the marijuana-alcohol comparison – that Silver makes himself – that really gets me. Both can be used responsibly and recreationally. Both can be abused. But the NBA prohibits only one.

Silver talks about lung health. Though he ignored that there are other ways besides smoking to get high, the NBA should care about its players’ physical health.

The league should – and does – also care about mental health. Players depriving themselves of all vices probably isn’t good for mental wellness. Those who’d prefer to sometimes indulge in marijuana – as opposed to alcohol or some other vice – are stuck either forgoing or breaking the rules. It’s not good to build the entire system around only those who are abusing the drug.

I also push back on Silver’s think-of-the-children argument. At this very moment, it is either better for the league to prohibit or allow marijuana. I don’t think the previous rule should carry much weight on the future rule. Make the determination that’s best for the league going forward. Again – as Silver said himself – young people need to be taught about responsible drinking. They can be taught about responsible marijuana usage, too. As marijuana becomes legalized, it’s a lesson that already takes greater importance, regardless of what the NBA does.

I appreciate Silver’s nuanced view. His openness to new ideas is one of his defining traits as a commissioner. But he’s also very methodical before acting. It’s hard to see any changes until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends in 2023 or 2024.

But given his previous statements on marijuana, this sounds like Silver gradually moving toward a relaxed policy then.