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Professional Sports in a Re-Legalized World

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The next time you gather with friends to watch a sporting event, start this discussion: “What happens to this game when it’s legal, again?”

The World Anti-Doping Agency has classified marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug, in part for its ability to ease anxiety. This classification has been panned by some scientists. David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London told Reuters back in 2012: “There’s no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there’s no reason for it to be banned by WADA.”

In the NFL, however, marijuana is covered under the substance abuse policy, rather than the performance-enhancing drug policy. “Hard to believe it would be performance enhancing in any sport associated with speed, timing, power, focus or endurance,” writes Dr. Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist and doping expert at the Mayo Clinic, in an email. Banning marijuana can save sports leagues like the NFL public relations headaches. Americans are comfortable seeing their athletes sipping beer. Smoking marijuana is another story.

But drug policies can evolve. In May, the World Anti-Doping Agency raised the threshold for a positive test by a factor of ten, from 15 ng/mL (nanograms per millilter) to 150 ng/mL. The Ultimate Fighting Championship followed suit, raising its threshold from 50 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL. Last week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that federal prosecutors won’t pursue casual marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, as long as they’re obeying the state laws.

As the pro-marijuana movement gains momentum in the U.S., the drug policies in sports may shift with it.

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