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HOT TAKE TUESDAY: USF Should Stop Drug Testing Student-Athletes For Marijuana

Testing for pot is a relic of a different era, and the stigma fades more every day. It's time to stop treating a drug safer than alcohol more harshly than we do boozing.


The NCAA policy on drugs and drug testing is what happens when you need the consensus of hundreds of institutions to move forward on an issue. It's a patchwork of rules that don't make a lot of sense at 30,000 feet, and the experience of two NCAA athletes at two different schools in two different sports is rarely the same. Testing basically falls into three categories:

* Division I and II student-athletes can be tested year-round, but only for performance-enhancing drugs. A school gets between zero and 48 hours notice, and then a randomly selected list of athletes must report to a testing center on-campus at an appointed time.

Anabolic agents, diuretics and other masking agents, peptide hormones and analogues, as well as anti-estrogens can be tested for as part of the year-round program, but not what the NCAA classifies as "street drugs." These include heroin, marijuana, and some synthetic forms of THC that align closely chemically with marijuana.

At NCAA championships across all sports, "drug testing can occur at any phase of an NCAA championship (e.g., first round, second round, quarterfinals, semi-finals or finals). Drug testing can occur more than once at any championship (e.g., first round and finals)."

If you're in the bowels of an arena after an NCAA men's or women's basketball game, you'll often see the drug testing person escorting randomly-selected athletes to get tested immediately after the final horn.

But here's the kicker: at the Championships, athletes ARE tested for street drugs. A failed test for anything marijuana to crack used to be an automatic one-year suspension, but that was been reduced to six months in 2014, and the current NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline wants to eliminate street drug testing all together.

Also to be noted is that the NCAA threshold on marijuana in an athlete's system is much smaller than the threshold for a positive test in other sports. Five nanograms (that's five billionths of a gram) will get you flagged as a positive test in college. The limit is 35 in the NFL, 50 in MLB... and in the Olympics, it's 150.

* Each NCAA institution is responsible for setting their own policy for additional drug testing. Schools can test as often or as little as they'd like, and in many cases there's no testing at all, including at prestigious schools such as Stanford. But the rule is if you have a drug testing program with outlined consequences for positive results, those consequences must be enforced. A school can't go back and change a penalty for a certain student-athlete because they're a superstar once they've failed a test.

Basically the rule is if you drug test and have rules, those rules must be enforced.

When football players were randomly tested using the NCAA Championship setup during the 2014 bowl season, 14% tested positive for marijuana. That makes sense when you realize how prevalent marijuana use is on modern college campuses, and how much football hurts. Sometimes the best drug for pain relief a football player has access to is sold by the guy in the dorm room across the hall.

I realize that's not everyone: some guys and gals just want to get baked. And that's OK too.

I've never used marijuana, but I can't imagine my college experience without alcohol. And what we know now is that the marijuana today's kids are smoking is a helluva lot less dangerous than alcohol I drank. The current 18-to-22-year-old college student also has a lot more access to information about drugs and their effects, and have been raised in an era where the stigma associated with pot is far less than it was just 10 or 15 years ago.

Four states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and more will in November. Twenty-four states have legalized medical marijuana, but student-athletes are precluded from taking advantage of the same laws as every other adult in those states because of the NCAA Championship testing program and the programs of the schools they attend.

This is a great opportunity for USF to take a leadership position and end marijuana testing tor student-athletes.

Testing for pot is from a bygone era and though the intention was good, it's harming more student-athletes than it's helping. Requiring student-athletes to attend "rehab" programs after testing positive for a substance no longer considered highly addictive by anyone reasonable is pedantic and silly. These are young adults, and should be treated as such.

If you required all USF students to get tested and go to some form of rehab or group therapy after submitting a positive, you'd have to have those sessions in the Sun Dome. It's the only building on campus that could hold everyone.

We don't test student-athletes for alcohol, which is far more dangerous. So let's stop testing them for weed too, and let them make the adult decisions they choose.

If you show up drunk or high to practice, your coach will know, your trainer will know, your teammates will know, and you'll still be punished. It has happened before, and it'll happen again. But marijuana testing simply isn't preventing use. It only lines the pockets of the GNC at University Mall where many student-athletes pick up their detox kits.

Marijuana legalization is coming to a state near you as fast as same-sex marriage did, and this is an opportunity for USF to show some leadership and be ahead of the curve. There's no need to ban kids from competing for making the same decisions as their peers.

Stop testing student-athletes for pot. Today.