NFL Approves Testing Changes, Increases Threshold for Pot

The NFL is big on urine testing. Six positives for marijuana or other "substances of abuse" and you’re banned for a year.

The NFL Players Association's proposed new threshold for marijuana testing - from 15 ng/ml to 35 ng/ml - has been adopted by the NFL along with a number of other changes to the league's Substances of Abuse Policy.

Previously, players who tested positive for delta 9-THC-carboxylic acid (marijuana) were placed in the Intervention Program (that remains in the new policy). If players failed a second test or didn't fulfill treatment requirements, they received a four-game suspension and fine. If players failed a third test, they received a six-game suspension and fine. If players failed a fourth test, they were suspended for one year (17 games) and fined.

Now, suspensions will kick in after the fourth offense rather than the second. It would take six offenses rather than four to be banned for one year. The stages now are: (1) placement in the Intervention Program, (2) two-game fine, (3) four-game fine, (4) four-game suspension and fine, (5) 10-game suspensionand fine,  and (6) one-year suspension and fine.

NFLPA president Eric Winston says about the association's proposal to the NFL: “This is a historic moment for our players and our league. We have collectively bargained drug policies that will keep the game clean and safe, but also provide our players with an unprecedented level of fairness and transparency. Players should be proud of their union for standing up for what was best for the game.”

The league also approved changing the policy regarding amphetamine testing. If a player wants to use Adderall for ADD, he has to receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). An off-season positive test with a TUE will no longer be a violation. However, a positive during the season without a TUE will be a violation. Amphetamines will now be treated under the rules of the Substancs of Abuse Policy, not the PED Policy.

The NFL conducts urine tests for the following drugs (concentration levels follow the name or names of the drugs):

• benzoylecognine (cocaine) – 150 ng/ml
• delta9-THC-carboxylic acid (e.g., marijuana and marijuana by-products) – 35 ng/ml
• amphetamine and its analogs – 300 ng/ml
• opiates and opioids – 300 ng/ml (total morphine and codeine)
• methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and its analogues – 200ng/ml
• phencyclidine (PCP) – 25 ng/ml
• alcohol – .06 g/dl (%)

The NFL has been under fire on a number of fronts regarding its conduct and punishment policies. Entering the 2014 season, the league had suspended 15 players for violating the Substances of Abuse Policy, mostly due to positive tests for marijuana. Several of the players - Josh Gordon, Daryl Washington and LaVon Brazill - were hit with year-long bans. (Gordon and Brazill's have been reduced to 10 games.)

Meanwhile, prior to the season, Ray Rice was docked just two games after assaulting his then fiancée until video of the assault leaked out and Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him indefinitely.

Many players felt that the lengthy sentences handed out for positive tests for marijuana and other drugs didn't fit the crime. When his appeal was rejected by the NFL, Cleveland's All-Pro receiver Gordon stated: "I'm very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case."

Arizona's All-Pro linebacker Washington called the drug policy "very strict," but did not appeal his ban.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.