NCAA committee recommends removing marijuana from list of banned drugs

An NCAA committee recommended that each of the association’s three divisional governance bodies introduce and adopt legislation that would remove cannabinoids — the chemical substance derived from the cannabis plant — from the NCAA’s list of banned drug classes.

The NCAA posted a release Friday stating that the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS), which provides expertise to the association related to athlete health, made the recommendation. Committee members met this week in Indianapolis and also recommended developing a “robust educational strategy to accompany a potential change to cannabinoid legislation,” according to the release.

The release also noted that the recommendation was based on “extensive study informed by industry and subject matter experts,” including doctors and substance misuse experts, and informed by a December 2022 Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics and “the consensus opinion formed that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug and that a harm-reduction approach to cannabis is best implemented at the school level.”

“The recommendation aims to recenter student-athlete health while recognizing membership opinions and the shifting cultural and legal landscapes surrounding cannabinoids,” the release stated.

Additionally, it noted that removing cannabinoids from the list of banned substances “acknowledges the ineffectiveness of existing policy” and “affirms the role of the NCAA drug-testing program to address only performance-enhancing substances.”

Each of the three NCAA divisional governance structures will decide on the timing of discussing and adopting possible legislation.

“When making a decision on an important topic like this, we agree that the membership should have an opportunity to vote on the final outcome,” James Houle, CSMAS chair and lead sport psychologist at Ohio State, said in a statement. “We are recommending a big shift in the paradigm when it comes to cannabinoids. We want to modernize the strategy with the most up-to-date research to give schools the best opportunity to support the health of student-athletes.”

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

What this means

The NCAA has signaled its interest in changing its marijuana policy for a while, as more and more states have legalized the drug. It’s a logical step considering widespread policy changes and that it is a drug that is not performance-enhancing. Medicinal and recreational marijuana have become more societally accepted in the past five or 10 years, which has impacted a number of policies across various industries and even in professional sports leagues as well. It seems like the NCAA wants to treat cannabis similarly to how it treats alcohol — which is to say, that it prioritizes education and support, moving away from penalties and other punitive actions. — Auerbach

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(Photo: Erica Denhoff / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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