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Eventual disappearance of federal marijuana prohibition would pressure NFL to scrap its own ban

On Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the federal government’s prohibition on the use of marijuana may no longer make sense. That raised plenty of eyebrows, from sea to shining sea.

It definitely should raise eyebrows at 345 Park Avenue.

As more and more states in which the NFL does business began to legalize marijuana both for medicinal and/or for recreational purposes, the league’s ongoing rules and regulations against marijuana use became more and more confusing. From the moment the first state (Colorado) legalized marijuana, the league continued to hide behind the federal prohibition. It still does. The moment the federal prohibition evaporates will be the moment that the league will be required to come up with some other justification for adhering to its anti-marijuana rules.

Yes, the NFL dramatically overhauled the rules as part of the 2020 CBA, wiping out suspensions for positive marijuana results. However, players are still fined for testing positive -- and they can still end up being suspended. If/when the federal law changes, the league will have to confront its ongoing obsession with policing the private lives of players when it comes to their use of marijuana.

It’s a matter of when, not if. It would be nice, given that reality, if the league would simply pull the plug now. That won’t happen, not as long as the broader rights and responsibilities fall within the scope of collective bargaining. Because the league will never give up anything to the players without getting something in return.