The NFL is doing all it can to enact a new collective bargaining agreement sooner than later, but it has several hefty hurdles to overcome in ongoing discussions with the NFL Players Association. The current CBA expires after the 2020 season and while there is a chance a new one could be enacted prior to the new league year — which begins on March 18 — it remains unlikely at the moment, as the two sides wrestle over the biggest talking point, namely the installation of a 17-game season. And while that topic is carrying headlines, it’s not the only thing being discussed, as the NFL and NFLPA attempt to glean concessions out of each other.
Another is the league’s stance on the longstanding ban on marijuana use, with players wanting a full-on decriminalization of the drug in professional football. As it stands, the NFL provides the harshest punishment of any major American sport when a player tests positive for marijuana, up to and including indefinite suspension. The window for testing is also an exceedingly wide one, beginning on April 20 — you read that correctly: 4/20 — and extending through early August.
The tests are random, of course, so a player might be tested on Day 1, or not at all until August. Nonetheless, they must stay clean and at the ready throughout the entire testing window.
There could be changes on the horizon, however, with the new CBA reportedly including a clause that shrinks the four-month testing window to just two weeks, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, but that’s not all. The NFLPA could also win on the topic of drastically reduced penalties, and suspensions would happen “only in the event of extreme and repeated disregard of the policy” or in instances wherein the player has a “significant violation” of criminal law in their respective jurisdiction.
In other words, the NFL wouldn’t completely lift its ban on marijuana use, but would instead greatly reduce its efforts to hunt down offenders and to then drop the hammer on those who fail a test.
The aforementioned report is aimed in the right direction, with whispers around the league of these very changes being discussed in CBA talks, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones himself outright declared football .
“I think the world is sensitive to the issue regarding marijuana,” he said following the latest collective bargaining agreement talks in Dallas. “It’s also an issue contemporarily we’re excited about being in step with the social and legal scene as it goes forward. And, so, we not only have the interest of competitiveness in mind when it comes to any type of substance, we have the issue of the law and we have the issue of the society focus on it. All of that does receive attention when you’re discussing this area with players.
“I think that [we can] expect an adjustment [in the] present way that marijuana is being thought about.”
What’s unknown is when a possibly diminished NFL testing window would begin, or if the new CBA will be put in place prior to March 18 so that such policies can be effective in 2020. If it’s ratified after the start of the new league year this offseason, everything will be business as usual until 2021, and that would mean one more year of uber-aggressive NFL testing for marijuana and harsh punishments for violators.