Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

David Stern: NBA began testing for marijuana after players complained of others playing high

The NBA began testing for marijuana in 1999 under then-commissioner David Stern.

But as current commissioner Adam Silver endorses the status quo, Stern is talking of changing the league’s marijuana policy.

Stern in an interview with Al Harrington for Uninterrupted:

It was sort of generally known at some point until we tightened the rules that a lot of our players were smoking a lot of marijuana. In fact, some of our players came to us and said some of these guys are high coming into the game. But we began tightening it up, and at that time, people accepted the generally held wisdom that marijuana was a gateway drug and that if you start smoking, you’re liable to go on to bigger and better stuff.
I think we’ve got to change the collective bargaining agreement and let you do what is legal in your state. If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I would think you should be allowed to do what’s legal in your state.
I’m now at the point where, personally, I think it probably should be removed from the banned list.

Stern is correct that marijuana should be removed from the banned-substances list. It’s becoming increasingly legal, and the NBA shouldn’t police a substance that is neither legal nor performance-enhancing. As public opinion rapidly turns toward legalization, the NBA isn’t even incentivized to appease the portion of the fan base so troubled by marijuana use.

That’s who Stern and the owners he worked for were trying to accommodate in 1999 – not players who complained of other players getting high before games. That claim is disingenuous.

Stern’s tactics weren’t directly effective anyway. Jay Williams estimated 75%-80% of NBA players use marijuana. Chauncey Billups said he had teammates who played better high. Stephen Jackson admitted to playing high.

But the testing helped create a desirable perception. It didn’t matter how many players were hurt financially by marijuana suspensions or steered into addictive painkillers if they resisted marijuana. Stern’s NBA could present a “clean” image.

At least Stern’s wiser current approach is commendable.