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NFL hopes to ditch marijuana ban via collective bargaining

Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon says he's stepping away from football to focus on his mental health, while he is reportedly facing another indefinite suspension from the NFL.

Regardless of whether Josh Gordon’s latest suspension arises from marijuana or other recreational drugs that don’t enhance performance, his indefinite banishment brings back into focus a question that gnaws at power brokers like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: Why does the NFL test players for marijuana use while on their own time?

It started during the War on Drugs, which wasn’t really a war and did nothing to get people to stop using drugs. Three decades later, more and more states are legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, and more and more observers believe that marijuana does more good than harm for players suffering from pain and other issues related to playing tackle football for a living.

The NFL realizes that there’s no longer any good reason to keep the best football players from playing football over marijuana. But the NFL isn’t yet willing to make dramatic and wholesale changes to the marijuana testing policy because the NFL hopes to dangle the changes within the context of collective bargaining, securing a concession from the union in exchange for softening a policy that badly needs to be softened.

If negotiated as a separate issue, the union wouldn’t bite. More than 95 percent (maybe higher) of all players know how to avoid testing positive in the first place, and most of those who accidentally test positive once avoid more positives under enhanced testing, given the enhanced consequences.

So why make a broader concession that would affect all players in order to help only a handful? The union wouldn’t do it, and the policy would continue to ensnare a handful of players and the NFL would have to decide whether it’s OK with that.

And so the easiest approach will be to dump the changes into the next round of CBA discussions, blending the revision in with the broader negotiations and claiming that a concession was achieved.

Even if it isn’t.