As the cannabis legalization movement spreads across the country, it has forced a number of North American sports leagues to rethink their own marijuana policies.
Teams based in legal states are no longer the exception—they’re the rule.
Only 22 of 124 teams (18%) in the four major pro sports leagues (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) are based in states where neither medical or adult-use is allowed. As of May 2022, recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states, plus D.C., and Canada, while medical marijuana is legal in 38 states.
Read on for the latest info about the most popular North American leagues and their policies on marijuana testing.
National Basketball Association (NBA)
They’re getting there. The NBA suspended random marijuana tests during the 2020 “bubble season” in Orlando, and league officials have continued that no-test policy through the 2022 season. But they’ve stopped short of giving players an official green light to consume.
The league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will need to be renewed following the 2023-2024 season, at which point players will have an opportunity to end THC testing forever.
With more and more former and current players speaking openly about using cannabis to relax, calm, and recover, we’re unlikely to see the return of marijuana testing in the Association.
Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)
Despite the forward-looking policies of the NBA and the current imprisonment of WNBA star Brittney Griner, the WNBA continues to test players for marijuana use—but only once a year, and with no major penalties. Given Griner’s situation, and the league’s public campaign supporting her release, WNBA players are unlikely to see any kind of crackdown on cannabis use this year.
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The most recent collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2020, includes marijuana testing requirements. But the league’s collective trauma regarding the Griner case may lead officials to let that test fade away quietly over time.
National Football League (NFL)
The NFL only tests players for marijuana during the official league season. In April 2021, the league announced that it would stop testing players for THC during the off season (which covers much of the spring and summer).
The league also raised the threshold for a positive THC test, from 35 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL. Players will no longer face suspensions if they test positive. Instead, they can be fined up to a total of three game paychecks.
National Hockey League (NHL)
The NHL has the most lenient marijuana policy of any North American major sports league. Players are randomly tested twice a year: Once during training, and once during the regular season.
Although players still get tested, the league doesn’t punish them for a positive THC test. League officials only take notice if the test shows “abnormally high levels” of THC. In that situation, league physicians will anonymously flag the test and offer the player access to a substance treatment program.
Fun fact: 28 out of 31 NHL teams play in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, the most of any league.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
In 2019, Major League Baseball removed marijuana from its list of banned substances for the offseason. During the regular season, the league does not conduct regular tests for THC. League officials will only test players if they appear to be under the influence of marijuana. Minor league players can no longer be suspended for marijuana use.
Major League Soccer (MLS)
MLS does test and punish players for drugs, including marijuana. This puts the league in line with other soccer leagues worldwide, which generally adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rule that categorizes cannabis as a prohibited performance-enhancing drug.
National Women’s Soccer League
The NWSL specifically allows the use of CBD for its players. While it’s unclear whether that means the league doesn’t test for THC, the fast-emerging market of CBD-THC hybrid products likely means the league won’t be holding back its players from using the full range of cannabinoids.
National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)
NASCAR regularly tests both drivers and on-track crew members for THC. The organization has no problem suspending drivers who test positive for marijuana.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
While the UFC does test fighters for a wide array of drugs, they couldn’t care less about a positive test for marijuana.
“Why the hell do we care what someone did a week before, let alone a night before, when it doesn’t have any effect on their ability to fight?” UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky told ESPN, citing evidence that a positive test for marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean that person was under the influence at any particular moment.
International Tennis Federation (ITF)
The ITF tests players about twice a month. The Federations considers marijuana to be a prohibited performance-enhancing drug, equivalent to other forms of doping.
Professional Golfers Association (PGA Tour)
The PGA Tour actually ratcheted up its drug testing program in 2017, and league officials will suspend any player who tests positive for THC. The PGA classifies cannabis as a “drug of abuse.”
In 2019, the Tour suspended pro golfer Robert Garrigus for three months after testing positive for what Garrigus said was marijuana.