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Nevada Moves to Stop Penalizing Athletes Who Use Cannabis 

While the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are far-reaching (think appetite stimulant, sleep aid, and relaxant), most cannabis enthusiasts don’t consider the drug to be physically performance-enhancing. For example, eating an edible doesn’t mean you can suddenly run a marathon in record time.

Sporting organizations are also changing their tune when it comes to cannabis. Recently, many sporting leagues like the MLB and NBA have removed cannabis from their league’s list of banned substances and issued statements clarifying that players would no longer be tested or penalized for consuming cannabis. Nevada sports regulators seem to be following suit as they move to stop penalizing athletes for using or possessing marijuana.

What does this mean for state athletes? It may mean moving Nevada sports leagues and organizations into better alignment with state law. It may also help expand the cannabis conversation beyond Nevada’s border since the state is home to world-class athletic events.

Nevada State Athletic Commission Looking to Make Cannabis Policy Changes

The Nevada State Athletic Commission is holding a public hearing at the end of April to gauge feedback on a potential policy change that would amend rules to protect athletes from being penalized over consuming or possessing cannabis. The hearing and proposed policy changes come from a comprehensive review all state agencies must complete under an executive order from Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo (R).

Changes to current policy include a proposed amendment that would eliminate cannabis and cannabis-derived products from the list of banned substances under the Commission’s drug testing and anti-doping policy. The amendment also highlights that cannabis substances are legal for use and consumption under Nevada law. Recreational marijuana legalization was passed in 2016 by Nevada voters. Sale and consumption of cannabis for adults officially became legal on January 1st, 2017.

While the policy amendment outlines formal protections for Nevada athletes that would prevent them from being penalized over marijuana use, the regulations also still say that the NSCA adopts the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances for athletes. That list does include marijuana. The amendment seeks the best of both worlds, acknowledging the international governing body’s policy while carving out exceptions for state law.

Regulators are also seeking insight into adding a separate section to the new code stating, “possession, use, or consumption of cannabis or cannabis-derived products shall not be deemed an anti-doping violation under this Chapter, regardless of the laws of the jurisdiction where such possession, use, or consumption occurs, provided such possession, use, or consumption is legal under the laws of the State of Nevada.”

The wording suggests that state regulators want to protect athletes from penalties outside of Nevada. If athletes consume cannabis in another state, they could not face sanctions because cannabis consumption is legal in Nevada.

All state agencies in Nevada must finalize and submit their reports to Governor Lombardo by May 1st. These reports are meant to help streamline and clarify policy in Nevada.

Policy Moving in a New Direction for Athletes

Although the cannabis review comes as part of an overarching effort by the governor to streamline policy in Nevada, only two years ago, the Commission unanimously voted to stop penalizing professional fighters in the state who test positive for marijuana. Adopting this more comprehensive cannabis language to this policy amendment would mean solidifying that stance for all Nevada athletes.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission regulates some of the world’s most high-profile boxing and fighting contests. The changes meant a drug test showing more than 150 nanograms of cannabis metabolites per milliliter would not automatically disqualify a fighter from the competition. However, athletes presenting as noticeably intoxicated at a fight could still be barred from fighting.

Numerous national sporting clubs and organizations have also been reexamining their stance on cannabis, rolling back policies that penalize athletes for consuming cannabis or aligning with cannabis-related businesses.

In 2019, Major League Baseball removed cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. One year later, the league clarified that players would not be penalized for using cannabis while off the field. In one of the most progressive moves for the MLB yet, the league has opened the field, allowing ball clubs to partner with cannabis companies publicly. The Chicago Cubs recently became the first Major League Baseball team to partner with a cannabis business formally. The company can market its cannabis products with signage at Wrigley Field and in-game promotional features.

The National Basketball League is also instituting cannabis policy changes, announcing they are removing cannabis from its list of banned substances and will no longer drug test players. The move is part of a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement between the league and players. The deal also allows NBA players to use their likenesses to promote cannabis products and invest in cannabis companies.

Other sporting leagues, like the UFC, announced it would no longer punish fighters over positive marijuana tests. Drug testing in the National Football League also changing recently as part of a collective bargaining agreement. NFL players do not face the possibility of being suspended over positive drug tests for any substance, not just cannabis. The move reflects a shift in policy towards evaluation and treatment, not simply punishment.

Nevada, other states, and national sporting organizations are opening new conversations about the role of cannabis in sports and people’s daily lives. The goal is to create a dialogue that addresses sporting fairness while drawing a line between performance-enhancing drugs and therapeutic or recreational substances. This conversation is more important than ever as more states move toward legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis consumption and possession.

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