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Ex-Super Bowl player believes "sensible" cannabis policy coming to NFL by 2021

Ex-NFL player on sports & marijuana

Super Bowl champion Marvin Washington said he believes a "sensible non-prohibitive, non-degrading cannabis policy" is coming to the NFL when their collective bargaining agreement is up in 2021."I know the ceiling is 2020," Washington told CBSN's David Begnaud earlier this week.

Washington, a former defensive end who won a Super Bowl ring in 1998 with the Denver Broncos, said he got involved in cannabis advocacy when he saw former players struggling, sometimes fatally, to cope with the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — combined with the knowledge that the federal government has a patent on CBD as an antioxidant neuroprotectant. Known as CTE, it is a brain condition developed from repeated head injuries.

Washington is also one of the plaintiffs in a current lawsuit against the Justice Department requesting cannabis be removed from the Controlled Substance Act as a Schedule 1 drug.  He co-founded ISO-Sport, a company that makes sports performance products that are infused with CBD.

Washington pointed to opioid addiction among former players and says cannabis is a better alternative to treating athletes who suffer from the pain of playing a grueling contact sport.

"Would you rather guy use the opiates — which are highly addictive and damaging to your body — or would you rather use a plant that's natural non-toxic and it's healthy for you?" Washington asked. 

While a majority of the country has approved regulated cannabis programs, professional athletes are wrestling directly with the contradiction in policy between state approved programs and their leagues' drug abuse policy. According to a report by Axios, 101 out of the 123 major North American professional sports franchises play where marijuana is legal in some form or another. Yet three leagues, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL still punish players if they test positive for the drug.

The National Conference of State Legislatures lists the total number of state approved medical marijuana/cannabis programs at 34. Ten states and D.C. have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

Washington said he believes when the NFL renegotiates with the league owners at the end of the 2020 season, they will adopt a policy similar to the NHL's cannabis substance abuse policy. The NHL has a more favorable policy for players as they are not disciplined when testing positive for THC.  

In recent years, several NFL players have missed a majority of their season due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy possibly connected to marijuana use.

New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is currently on an indefinite suspension by the NFL, was previously suspended in 2014 for 10 games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy after reportedly failing a marijuana drug test. Gordon had served a two-game suspension prior to the 2014 ban.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who is currently on an indefinite suspension, was suspended for the full 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He had previously been suspended for four games in the previous year due to marijuana use, CBS Sports reported. In March, Cowboy's lineman David Irving announced he was quitting the NFL until it changes its marijuana policy. Irving is also facing an indefinite suspension by the league.

The NFL's Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, according to the NFLPA website, is intended first to assist athletes but also has penalties for those that do not comply with the program.