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NCAA Votes To Remove Marijuana From Banned Substances List For College Athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has voted to remove marijuana from its banned substances list for Division I players, effective immediately.

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About five months after NCAA’s Division I Council proposed the rule change, the body adopted the policy on Tuesday, emphasizing that cannabis is not a performance enhancing drug and that it should be treated the same way as alcohol.

The reform builds on a 2022 change that increased the allowable THC threshold for college athletes, aligning NCAA’s rules with those of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).


The newly adopted rule, which amends NDAA’s drug testing policies for student sports championships and postseason participation in football, will also be retroactively applied, discontinuing any penalties players are currently facing for a cannabis-related violation.

“The NCAA drug testing program is intended to focus on integrity of competition, and cannabis products do not provide a competitive advantage,” Josh Whitman, chair of the council, said in a press release. “The council’s focus is on policies centered on student-athlete health and well-being rather than punishment for cannabis use.”

“Cannabinoids will be addressed like other non-performance enhancing drugs like alcohol,” NCAA said in a social media post. “NCAA members will focus on harm-reduction strategies problematic cannabis use, centering health of student-athletes.”

This reform follows a preliminary recommendation last June from NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) that each of the organization’s three governing bodies remove marijuana from the banned substances list. Divisions II and III are yet to vote on the proposal.

“Slowly, surely, America is coming to its senses after 50 years of the failed war drugs,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is only fitting that the NCAA remove cannabis from its list of banned substances as Sha’Carri Richardson qualifies for the 2024 Olympics—an accomplishment she earned for years ago but was wrongly taken away. Common sense is finally prevailing,” he added, referencing the qualification of a U.S. runner was previously suspended from participating in Olympics events due to a positive THC test in 2021.

Historically, college athletes have been subject to testing during postseason play. Positive tests could mean an entire season of lost eligibility. Officials have said the changes are intended to focus more on problematic use than penalizing players for a single mistake.

In formally recommending the policy shift last September, the NCAA committee said that ending the cannabis ban “acknowledges the ineffectiveness of existing policy (banning, testing and penalizing),” affirms the body’s belief that cannabis is not a “performance-enhancing drug” promotes the “importance of moving toward a harm-reduction strategy.”

“The timing of discussion and adoption of possible legislation is a decision that will be made by each of three NCAA divisional governance structures,” the panel said. “This recommendation is based on extensive study informed by industry and subject matter experts (including doctors, substance misuse experts and membership practitioners).”

Multiple sports organizations have moved to amend their marijuana testing policies for athletes amid the state legalization movement.

For example, the NFL and its players union agreed to end the practice of suspending players over marijuana or other drugs as part of a collective bargaining agreement in 2020.

NFL has committed significant funding to research into whether CBD can serve as an effective opioid alternative, and it’s also explored the therapeutic potential of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid for pain management and neuroprotection from concussions.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced in December that it is formally removing marijuana from its newly modified banned substances list for athletes, also building on an earlier reform.

However, ahead of a UFC event in February, a California athletics commission said they could still face penalties under state rules for testing positive for THC over a certain limit, as the state body’s policy is based around WADA guidance.

Nevada sports regulators voted last year to send a proposed regulatory amendment to the governor that would protect athletes from being penalized over using or possessing marijuana in compliance with state law.

While advocates have welcomed these changes, there’s been criticism of WADA over its ongoing cannabis ban. Members of a panel within the agency said in an opinion piece last August that marijuana use by athletes violates the “spirit of sport,” making them unfit role models whose potential impairment could put others at risk.

Advocates strongly urged WADA to enact a reform after U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from participating in Olympics events due to a positive THC test in 2021.

Meanwhile, an NFL player recently sued the league and his former team the Denver Broncos for alleged employment discrimination after he was fined more than half a million dollars for testing positive for THC that he says was caused by his prescribed use of a synthetic cannabinoid


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