NCAA Loosens Marijuana Rules for College Athletes

The NCAA raised the THC levels a college athlete can have in their system and proposed lighter penalties for those who test positive for marijuana.

March 2, 2022 · Updated on March 2, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
NCAA Loosens Marijuana Rules for College Athletes
College Sports
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  • The NCAA increased the THC threshold athletes can have in their system.
  • It is also proposing reduced penalties for college athletes who test positive for marijuana.
  • Marijuana is legal in some form in the majority of U.S. states.

The NCAA has revised its marijuana policy to raise the amount of THC a college athlete can have in their body, and is also proposing reduced penalties for athletes who do test positive for marijuana.

The new threshold for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has been raised from 35 nanograms per milliliter to 150 nanograms per milliliter. The new standard is in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) levels, the NCAA said in a news release.

The new policy was announced last Friday and took effect on Feb. 23. The new policy applies retroactively to drug tests taken since fall 2021. The NCAA said the threshold could change in the future if WADA modifies its standard.

The NCAA's shift also brings the organization in closer alignment with the American public's views on marijuana. An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (91%) say either that marijuana should be legal for medical and adult recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (31%), according to an April 2021 Pew Research Center survey.

Adult recreational marijuana use is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, and medical use of marijuana is legal in 37 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

All athletes at NCAA colleges will still be regularly tested for drug use.

"Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use," said the NCAA's chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline.

"Marijuana is not considered a performance-enhancing substance, but it remains important for member schools to engage student-athletes regarding substance use prevention and provide management and support when appropriate," Hainline said.

The proposed new penalty structure for positive marijuana results are:

  • First Positive Test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides a management plan and education for the student-athlete.
  • Second Positive Test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides additional management and education and confirms the student-athlete was compliant with the original management and education plan. The athlete also must sit out 25% of their regular-season contests if they were not compliant with the original management and education plan.
  • Third Positive Test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides additional management and education and confirms the student-athlete was compliant with the previous two treatment and education plans. Also, the athlete must be withheld from 50% of their regular-season contests if they were not compliant with the previous management and education plan.

Each of the NCAA's three divisions will have to vote separately on the proposed penalties before they can become effective. The NCAA did not say when the divisions will vote.