Former National Basketball Association (“NBA”) Commissioner David Stern has announced that he believes marijuana should be removed from the NBA’s banned substances list. In a documentary for the online sports programming network Uninterrupted, Stern speaks with former NBA player Al Harrington about the medicinal value of marijuana in the league. During the conversation, Stern tells Harrington, “I’m now at the point where, personally, I think it [marijuana] probably should be removed from the banned list. You’ve persuaded me.” Stern, who was NBA commissioner from 1984 to 2014, increased regulations on marijuana during his tenure, which he partly attributes to players abusing recreational marijuana and playing games while under the influence of the drug. He also attributes his administration’s restrictions to the, “generally held wisdom that marijuana was a gateway drug and that if you start smoking, you’re liable to go on to bigger and better stuff.” However, Stern now believes a sweeping ban against marijuana may not be beneficial for the players or the league.
Stern cites several reasons for his change in opinion, including medical research, player health, and general changes in social perception of marijuana. He points to news outlets such as CNN, which have researched and shown that marijuana has medicinal purposes that can benefit player training and rehabilitation. He notes that in a time in which all major sports leagues have shifted focus to player health and wellbeing, medical marijuana “should be a part of that conversation.” Stern additionally cites changing social and legal attitudes towards the drug, noting that the completely different perspective towards the drug has produced advancements in understanding marijuana’s use as a medicine that can augment player health and nutrition. Stern concludes that the league rules should reflect state laws, which are gradually transitioning towards legalizing medical (and in some states, recreational) marijuana. He states, “I think we have to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement and let you do what’s legal in your state,” and “[n]ow I think it’s up to the sports leagues to anticipate where this is going and maybe lead the way.” Some of Stern’s sentiments are shared by others in the league, such as the Golden State Warriors Basketball team coach Steve Kerr, who has used marijuana for pain relief, and the current NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, has commented that the NBA is currently interested in understanding the safety of medical marijuana. However, NBA spokesman Mike Bass has expressed, “our [NBA] position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes.”
Jason Colin is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).