August 20, 2017

Candid Coaches: Getting real on marijuana legalization, testing in college football

Marijuana is slowly but surely being legalized across the United States — either for medicinal or recreational use. But the NCAA — and individual universities — still test college athletes to determine whether they smoke weed and punish them accordingly. Yes, even in states like Colorado where marijuana is legal. That led us to ask coaches, under the condition of anonymity, to share their stances on marijuana and whether players should still be punished for using it.

Should marijuana be legalized nationwide?

Answer Responses
No 52 percent
Yes 35 percent
No opinion 13 percent

Should college athletes still be tested and suspended for marijuana use?

Answer Responses
Yes 74 percent
No 18 percent
No opinion 8 percent

Explain yourselves

  • “No, [it should not be legalized]. I think it’s a gateway drug, and I’ve got kids. Right now, in [my team’s state], marijuana and opiates are a bad, bad killer.”
  • “I’m to the point where — if you get a caught smoking marijuana and it’s illegal — we’re going to punish you. [However], it doesn’t recognize the standards in our society today. We’ve got several states where it’s legal. I have a ton of players. I came back from spring break. They decided to have their offseason drug test. Thirty of my players [tested positive]. They just went home for spring break. What do you think they’re going to do? Look at what we did: We drank a lot of beer, and we weren’t even of age. They’re going to smoke a little bit. The sad thing is they’re going to go home and their parents are going to be smoking.  Let’s not kill ourselves on something that’s no longer in effect. I hate to test them after summer because these kids’ parents grew up smoking pot. It’s very socially accepted.”
  • “I think it should be legal. Why? It’s legal all over our country. It’s legal for people who are sick. What we should do is make it legal, but there’s got to be a certain [threshold]. Everything that leads to bad decisions goes back to what? After midnight — with alcohol. I think we have it all reversed. I’m more [against] alcohol than I am marijuana. We drug test all these kids, so why don’t we breathalyze them? Nobody says, ‘You’re dying, grab some whiskey.’ You’ll die faster.”
  • “Absolutely [they should be tested]. A lot of times these things are established before you ever meet these kids. When a kid has never done it before college, usually I can correct it if it’s a learned behavior. But when he’s out 12 years old smoking with Uncle John and Cousin Rudy, it’s deep rooted. If I let you do this, I’m setting you up for failure. Right now, the two organizations that say you can’t [smoke] are the NFL and NCAA. You’re involved in one and want to be in the next one. … I really believe marijuana is a gateway drug.”
  • “I’ve really come to the conclusion [that] what is socially acceptable is so different than the rules in our game. It doesn’t fit. My daughter in [one state] has told me there are more marijuana stores than McDonald’s.”
  • “I think it’s going to be legalized soon. I have come full circle as a man on that. We lose a lot of money. We’re helping the cartels grow [by not legalizing].”
  • “Our jails are full of people [who have been arrested for marijuana]. There are people losing their lives, dying every day. I know there are a lot worse things out there including things that are legal, including drinking, that are at the same level if not higher. We have to stop testing for it because it is legalized in states of competing universities. That’s not fair for those teams to have to be able to manage those kids when it’s legal in those states. I also believe that if it’s legalized it doesn’t become as cool anymore and the numbers go down.”
  • “A guy’s mind doesn’t stop forming until he’s 26. If he’s smoking a lot, it can change. We have to figure out what it [does] to our minds.”

Breaking it down

Pot has been called the new six pack. Outrageous? Apparently not to the Candid Coaches.Our respondents reflect society. Marijuana is becoming more socially acceptable. Slightly more than half the states — 26 — have legalized marijuana at least in some broad form. That 35 percent of our coaches believe pot should be legalized nationwide is more than a trend.

You see, it really doesn’t matter what your politics are. The change is coming. The NCAA has been testing for drugs for decades. Marijuana is just not that big a deal anymore.

Maybe the association woke up to the incongruity of testing itself. The hit rate for NCAA drug positives remain in the 2-3 percent range. If you think only 2-3 percent of players have illicit substances in their systems then you’re as dumb as the testers themselves. To get caught you either have to be stupid or sloppy. The science of masking drug use has always been ahead of drug testing itself.
Then there is the drug itself. Marijuana is not performance enhancing. Anything but. The NCAA said so in 2014 in one of the most progressive statements the association has ever made. “Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature …”

Perhaps that’s why an amazing 18 percent of the Candid Coaches said either marijuana should not be tested for any longer or players should not be suspended for using it. Times truly have changed.

It’s important to note in this survey that the minority of voters on both questions were the most passionate.

It’s both a common sense and ethical argument. If a regular citizen can posses and consume pot, why can’t a college football player?

The entire process is inconsistent. Most Power Five schools conduct in-house drug testing, so do their conferences, and so does the NCAA. That’s three layers. But other schools and conferences don’t have the budget or will to test. Are their players more high? Are more pot heads a competitive advantage — or disadvantage? See how silly this argument is becoming?

Then there is the issue of the consequences of drug use and the varying punishments from one school to another. As noted above, the NCAA long ago began decriminalizing marijuana. Look, it’s just not that big a deal anymore.

It’s clear the ice is melting around the issue. Whether you like it or not, marijuana is becoming more acceptable. Pot indeed may be becoming the new six pack. “We drank a lot of beer [when we were in school], and we weren’t even of age,” a coach said. “[These days] they’re going to smoke a little bit.”

 

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