Step by step, we are seeing cannabis use properly move mainstream and the sports world is no different. Fresh off the heels of the NBA announcing that it will not be drug testing basketball players for cannabis this year, a move expected to become permanent, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has ended its policy of punishing fighters for testing positive for cannabis. Ridiculously, cannabis has been treated the same as steroids or other illegal performance enhancing drugs, with fighters losing fights, pay, sponsorships, and bonuses.
I imagine that fan favorites, and known cannabis connoisseurs Nick and Nate Diaz, smiled when they heard the news, knowing that they were ahead of their time. Pat Healy, who lost at least $130,000 in fight bonuses due to a positive test back in 2013, should get his lost wages, as should every other previously sanctioned fighter, in my personal opinion. The Associated Press reported on the UFC’s landmark testing policy shift on cannabinoids derived naturally from marijuana are no longer prohibited substances, according to Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s senior vice president of athlete health and performance:
The UFC won’t allow fighters to compete while under the influence of cannabinoids, but Novitzky said the promotion recognizes that MMA fighters often use marijuana for pain management or relaxation. Fighters advocating for legal competitive marijuana use have previously argued that a loosening of the UFC’s anti-marijuana rules could lead to a reduction in the use of antidepressants or more addictive pain medications.
The UFC partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 to produce a comprehensive anti-doping program in a notoriously fractious sport. Mixed martial arts once frequently showcased fighters semi-openly using steroids and testosterone replacement therapy, among other performance enhancements.
“The goal of the UFC anti-doping program is to protect the rights of clean athletes by deterring intentional cheaters and holding those who choose to dope accountable in a fair and effective way,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “These amended rules are aimed at this, and to continue our focus on preventing intentional cheating and not to unnecessarily punish athletes for behavior that does not impact the fairness or safety of competition.”
As our nation grapples with so many other health issues, one of the most least addictive and dangerous drugs should not be prohibited, pushing athletes and ordinary folks to use more deadly substances, such as alcohol and opiates. Slowly but surely, it is good to see that science and common sense are winning the day. When it comes to legalization versus prohibition, legalization wins in a knockout.