Professional Athletes of Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana is Your Right

professional athletes, eben britton, nate jackson
Former NFL players Eben Britton (right) and Nate Jackson discuss medical marijuana for professional athletes. April 22nd, 2017.

Increasingly, professional athletes like Eugene Monroe and Draymond Green have been advocating publicly for medical marijuana use by players that would benefit from this alternative natural treatment. Players like Nate Jackson, my ‘teammate’ on the opioid panel at the 2017 World Medical Cannabis Conference & Expo, are on a mission to educate players through nonprofits like Athletes for Care.

Pennsylvania has recently legalized medical marijuana and some athletes are so persuaded by marijuana’s efficacy that they are investing in it. Players like former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard and Steelers hall-of-famer Franco Harris are so convinced by the medicine they have invested in companies applying for licenses to sell it.

Last month, I listened to Ricky Williams speak about his experiences with medical marijuana and the benefits it has had on his health. I’ve also had a chance to meet former Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans, who spoke about cannabis as a substitute for narcotic pain meds. These players are a growing number of individuals who believe that athletes have a right to medical marijuana and need to be protected from employment discrimination.

Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams speaking in Pittsburgh at the World Medical Cannabis Convention and Expo in April, 2017.

Current Players at Nature’s Way Medicine

We already have had currently active professional athletes at Nature’s Way Medicine. While I can’t say much more to protect their identities, I will say that they are still starting players for their team(s). At the time of seeing them, my assessment was to stray away from venturing the (currently) controversial path of medical marijuana treatment, regardless of their qualifications to use it. There is a lot on the line for these famous players and it would have attracted too much attention and debate. It was too risky then.

But it may not be anymore.

The medical marijuana industry and the country’s acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate medication is snowballing rapidly. I believe we are at a time now to put pressure on the major American and Canadian sports leagues: the NBA, MLB, NHL, and the NFL. We can’t expect one individual athlete to lead the way for everyone. It would be a difficult uphill battle. This needs to be a group effort spanning all “Big 4” leagues. We need as many players who qualify for medical marijuana to join in on this effort as I call on players in Pennsylvania to rise to this occasion and help athletes receive the right to medicate with cannabis. Besides being a qualified treatment in Pennsylvania for a list of qualified conditions, it would allow them access to an alternative to addictive pain medications like Percocet, Vicodin, and oxycontin for their chronic pain.


Pennsylvania Professional Athletes: Unite Together

sports medicine
Integrating medical marijuana with sports medicine.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania. Dispensaries and growing facilities will be announced (on this website) by the Department of Health (DOH) before June’s end. There are a few reasons that Pennsylvania is a perfect location to start pushing for its use by professional athletes. For one, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh together have enough professional teams to ensure that there will a considerable amount of athletes across the leagues that qualify for medical marijuana.

While cannabis is not yet available, now is the time for patients to discuss medical marijuana with their doctor. This holds true for our professional athletes. Even though medical marijuana won’t be available in PA until at least January 2018, players should begin seeing a doctor about medical marijuana right away to ensure a bona fide patient-physician relationship. Qualification for medical marijuana will be carefully assessed to assure a smooth approval when the time comes to apply for a medical marijuana card.

The reason a coercive group effort is being stressed is to help distribute the attention these players get once they get approved. Rather than one lonesome hero, many players could be approved simultaneously with the first wave of medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania. This would have a powerful impact on the sports industry, forcing each league’s hand to declare a more definitive stance on the matter.


Pennsylvania Employment Protection

The reason this would be make-or-break for the leagues is that they would be choosing between approving the players’ medical marijuana use or condemning it. Either way, the players are not to be blamed. This is not about their individual choice to use marijuana. This is about them following the recommendations of a physician. Those recommendation are simply that medical marijuana would benefit the players health. State law allows them the right to receive that doctor’s recommendation. If players are disallowed to use this medicine, they are stripped of their right to receive the best care possible. Their future health would be compromised by this and, in my opinion, the leagues should be held responsible for that if substantial evidence continues to surface in support of marijuana therapy for such players.

In any case, Pennsylvania has a very strong stance on employer’s fairness towards patients who are recommended to use marijuana:

No employer may discharge, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.Pennsylvania’s Act 16

What this boils down to is the league’s respect for the state and its laws. If they treat one of these professional athletes any differently, that would be discrimination. It would put the state in a position to take action. This kind of drama can be evaded by corporate social responsibility of accepting physician-guided medical marijuana treatment.

I have never had any patient have a problem with their employer discriminating against them for having a medical marijuana card. Even those awaiting application approval or recently established with our clinic have been given leniency when there were concerns. Each case is unique and most of these cases involved Delaware residents with Delaware cards, but the laws protecting DE patients are similar to those in Pennsylvania so the outlook looks promising based on my experiences with patients.


professional athletes
Dr. Roman and former Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans discussing medical marijuana for professional athletes.

The Game Plan

Pro athletes from all four major leagues: You should first approach your team physician about the use of medical marijuana. If he is open to that, which of course will be influenced by organizational politics, then he can apply to become a medical marijuana state-approved certifier or he can refer you to another physician specializing in cannabis and experienced treating patients with it. On the other hand, if your team doctor is against the use of cannabis or does not recommend it, you are still free to get a second opinion. Physicians will be allowed to register with the PA Department of Health soon for permission to certify patients with medical marijuana cards.

If you choose Nature’s Way Medicine for your consultation, I recommend you request your doctors’ office that they fax “progress notes” from the last year to our office. Usually you have to sign a form authorizing that. However, if you feel that this would put too much stress on you or your team, then hold off such requests for now. We’ll speak in detail about your situation and come up with a plan we’re both comfortable with.

By seeing a physician for your medical marijuana treatment, you are priming yourself for a medical marijuana card approval. This early preparation will secure your approval (assuming you are qualified and it is recommended by the doctor) at the earliest stage of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana adoption and access to treatment alongside the first wave of PA cannabis patients.


League Approval: Therapeutic Use Exemption

Your treatment will remain completely confidential, though eventually we must involve the league physicians for this to be possible. Leagues understand that certain conditions require drugs that are otherwise banned for players to use. In such cases the league files paperwork allowing the player to use it through a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). An example of a drug requiring a TUE is Adderall (amphetamine salts), which many players are approved to use by their leagues if they have a doctor’s recommendation to do so. Medical marijuana will require this same approval by the league and its doctors before a player can use it. Otherwise, if you are approved and receive a medical marijuana card but you are allowed to use it through a TUE, the league will penalize you on grounds of breaching your contract. They will say, you knew you needed their approval but you used it without acquiring it.

Because we require the leagues to approve you for medical marijuana use once you are certified to use it, then you will have to seek a TUE from the league. This is where the detailed documentation by your medical marijuana doctor has the most value. Since you have established a bona fide patient-physician relationship, the notes document a clear assessment of your need for medical marijuana that can be used by the league to determine your approval or disapproval for use. While one patient can be dismissed from using cannabis, a pattern of rejecting therapeutic use exemptions to players would be alarming for discrimination against players. The more players certified for medical marijuana, the stronger the evidence will be for determining each league’s fairness towards its marijuana-certified players.

Once you are certified for medical marijuana by seeing a medical marijuana specialist and attaining a medical marijuana card AND you are afterwards granted a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) by your league, THEN you can start using medical marijuana without it affecting your career. Remember, you do not have to be vocal about this and all of will happen confidentially unless you decide to share with others and become among the first league-approved active professional players advocating for medical marijuana by example.


Together We Stand

When multiple professional athletes gather the courage to change history for players like themselves by using their right to benefit from the therapeutic properties of cannabis, they will be joined together by a common mission. Across leagues they will be united. When PA medical marijuana cards are released, each league will have to respond simultaneously for each player requesting a therapeutic exemption to use medical marijuana under a physician’s guidance. One league may be criticized while another praised, depending on their responses. The more players involved, the better the odds are that their right for medical marijuana treatment will be respected.

Let’s change history.

 unite, teamwork

Provide Your Support

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