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How Does the USADA Handle Marijuana Usage by Athletes?

The fight for legalization of marijuana has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the United States. But while more and more states legalize — either for medicinal or recreational use — things are a bit different in the world of sports.

Fans of the NFL are well aware of the league's strict drug policies, as evidenced by the treatment of suspended New England Patriots receiver Josh Gordon. In the NBA, marijuana is also still technically illegal, although commissioner Adam Silver has publicly called for that to be changed.

So what are the benefits of using marijuana for the players?

It's used for pain relief as well as recreational use. This is particularly the case in the NFL, where the physical demands of the game are extremely high. Some players mistrust painkillers administered to them by team staff, or simply don't want to become addicted.

Illegality has not prevented players' efforts to circumvent the law, however. Former NBA player Kenyon Martin believes that 85 percent of the league smoked marijuana during his playing career, and former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett stated his belief that it was even higher among NFL players. Several players interviewed even said that coaches and front office personnel smoked weed too.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has an interesting approach to this issue. It is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code. The situation can be simply put as this: there is some leniency regarding cannabidiol (CBD), but U.S. federal law prevents this regarding marijuana.

USADA explicitly states that CBD is not a prohibited substance. But marijuana, including the resin and every compound within the plant (including CBD), or preparation of the plant (such as extracts or oils), remains illegal as a Schedule I substance under the U.S. Federal Controlled Substances Act.

If marijuana is ever decriminalized at the federal level, expect some major changes with the USADA and across professional sports.

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