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NFL denies Mike James’ request to use marijuana as a painkiller

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 11: Jameis Winston #3 hands the ball off to Mike James #25 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Buccaneers 17-9. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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Free agent running back Mike James has tried and failed to persuade the NFL to allow him to use marijuana as a painkiller.

James told that he developed a dependence on prescription painkillers that he took to cope with the aches and pains associated with playing football. His doctor told him that marijuana would be a safer alternative, and he found that it was. Now he’s an advocate for medical marijuana -- even as the NFL tells him he’s not allowed to use it and play in the league.

“I am hopeful that I’ll be able to keep playing football,” James said. “It is a game that I love very dearly. I know right now I’m doing something that makes some people uncomfortable, and that I’m going against the establishment to push for a change in the way they look at this medicine. I know there’s a greater purpose here for a lot of guys in this league who I consider family members.”

The NFL and other sports leagues sometimes allow athletes to use otherwise banned substances if they receive therapeutic use exemptions for substances that have legitimate medical uses. But when James applied for a therapeutic use exemption to allow him to use marijuana, the NFL turned him down. Although James is not currently under contract to an NFL team, free agents remain subject to the league’s random drug testing.

James, a 2013 sixth-round pick of the Buccaneers who also has played for the Lions, may be done playing in the NFL, as he was mostly a fringe player. But he hopes to help his fellow football players by speaking out and urging the NFL to consider giving players more options to deal with pain.