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Marijuana in pro sports: The debate

Marijuana legalization has been a hot topic for quite some time now, both politically and socially.

As the use of marijuana is becoming more socially accepted in recent years, the legalization or decriminalization of the drug is spreading across North America, and is even a priority of the more than one political platform in the upcoming Canadian federal election.

But what about use inside the rules and regulations of professional sport? When marijuana was illegal, nobody questioned why it was on the list of banned substances for the large majority of professional sports leagues in the western world.

Now that the medicinal uses of weed are legitimized and recognized, does it still belong on that black list of drugs?

This largely debated topic arose again recently in sports headlines as professional mixed martial artist Nick Diaz was given a five year suspension from the sport. The suspension was for the use of marijuana and was handed down by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. A five year suspension in MMA is generally a death sentence, but especially for the 32 year old California based athlete.

To be fair, this was Diaz’s third violation of the sports drug policy, but many athletes have tested positive for much worse substances and have faced less than half the punishment that Diaz received. In fact, his last opponent, Anderson Silva, was suspended for only a single year when he tested positive for two separate anabolic steroids.

It should also be noted that Nick Diaz is a licensed medicinal user of the drug under California state law. This brings up the debate, is marijuana a performance enhancing substance? That question is hard to answer as the drug affects people in many varying ways which depend on the amount consumed and the individual’s tolerance level.

Athletes in certain sports, like the growing sport of Jiu-Jitsu, can feel a positive effect while on marijuana during competition. Many competitors find it helps them relax and find their “flow” much more effectively.

The medicinal use of marijuana is another aspect of the discussion. Should it be okay for athletes to use prescribed painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin but then get suspended if they use marijuana for the same purpose?

Future NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre admittedly became addicted to Vicodin for a portion of his career due to the need for painkillers to deal with his injuries he acquired playing football. If marijuana had been an approved substance for use as a painkiller, Favre could have avoided his addiction to Vicodin which required intense rehabilitation.

Both sides of the marijuana argument have legitimate claims, but the view on the use of weed in our culture is beginning to transform with the rise of the new generation.

The outrage which the Diaz suspension caused across the sports world and the rising scientific evidence of the positive medicinal use of marijuana should make professional athletic leagues and commissions review their policies and make necessary changes to keep up with society.

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