NCAA Committee: Remove Cannabis From Banned Substances List

The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended removing marijuana from its list of banned substances for all three collegiate divisions.
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Published on October 4, 2023
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  • After announcing in June that it was considering reforming the NCAA's cannabis policy, its Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports committee formally recommended it be removed from the list of banned substances.
  • The NCAA previously loosened restrictions on THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in February 2022.
  • The NCAA is moving toward limiting only performance-enhancing substances.

The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) has recommended that cannabis be removed from the NCAA's list of banned substances.

"We are recommending a big shift in the paradigm when it comes to cannabinoids," James Houle, lead sport psychologist at The Ohio State University and chair of CSMAS, said in a statement.

This guidance is the result of "extensive study informed by industry and subject matters (including doctors, substance misuse experts and membership practitioners)," according to the NCAA's statement.

The committee is recommending a new course of action for student-athletes who test positive for marijuana, following the conclusions of the Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics in December. The organization first announced it was considering the reforms in June.

The three NCAA divisions will need to individually approve any final decision on this type of change to the bylaws.

CSMAS in its announcement cites the ineffectiveness of the current marijuana policy, which penalizes and can even ban athletes who test positive from competition. Its new approach favors a "harm-reduction strategy." The committee's guidance also notes that the NCAA's authority should only extend to substances deemed to be performance-enhancing, which marijuana is not.

In February 2022, the NCAA raised the THC threshold for a positive test, in line with World Anti-Doping Agency's standards. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

This and new guidance reflects changing "membership opinions and the shifting cultural and legal landscapes surrounding cannabinoids," according to the NCAA.

The NCAA anticipates benefits for student-athletes' mental health and emphasizes the need for support and programming at the school level rather than punishments handed down from the national governing body.

The new standards focusing on harm reduction will mirror those related to alcohol. Instead of keeping players off the field, violations will lead to educational programs and other standards under the discretion of the school. Athletes will miss playing time only if subsequent positive tests occur after failing to comply with initial remediation efforts.

This may also open the door for sponsorship deals between college athletics and cannabis-touching companies, including at stadiums or in media owned by the NCAA and its member conferences' and schools' various partners, such as ESPN, Learfield/IMG, and Fox.

It could also open the door for name, image, and likeness (NIL) sponsorship opportunities for student-athletes in the rapidly growing cannabis industry. Schools have had some difficulty on where to draw the line for college-athletes, who have only been eligible to sign sponsorship deals since 2021.

With no national regulation around this topic, schools and conferences have been left to their own devices to come up with guardrails for what kinds of companies athletes can work with for their sponsorship deals.

Some have banned alcohol and gambling sponsors, but others have allowed it. The gambling companies have structured deals so athletes are promoting their events and lifestyle elements of their brand, rather than being incentivized for gaining sign-ups, according to Front Office Sports.

Other CSMAS recommendations released last week include those involving concussions, where the committee is updating its safety protocol checklist, fact sheets, and protocol template. Similar updates to mental health resources are also being recommended.