Ultimately, we don’t determine what is a banned substance and what’s not, we rely on WADA for doing that.Jay Monahan
March 15th, 2020 was a big day for NFL players who use Marijuana. Having ratified an agreement between the Players Union and the NFL, players will see much-wanted changes to the league’s policies on usage of the drug. Players can no longer be suspended if they test positive for Marijuana, testing can only occur during the first few weeks of training camp, and the concentration of THC present needed to yield a positive test will be raised fourfold.1 By no means is the NFL considered to be a ‘flexible’ league in terms of drug policies. But, it seems they have adapted with the times as both THC and CBD products play an ever-increasing role in many people’s lives. With leagues as prominent as the NFL easing restrictions on a relatively harmless drug, it begs the question as to why the PGA Tour hasn’t followed suit.
Even though Marijuana is ‘illegal’ on the Tour, over half of the domestic events in 2018 were played in states where it was legal for either medical or recreational use
At the time of writing, the Tour seems to take a zero-tolerance policy to players who test positive for Marijuana. This past October, Matt Every received a 12-week suspension after testing positive. He has prescribed cannabis treatment to deal with mental health issues.2 Earlier in 2019, Robert Garrigus faced a similar suspension following a positive test for elevated THC levels. He, too, claimed to have had a prescription.3 Even though Marijuana is ‘illegal’ on the Tour, over half of the domestic events in 2018 were played in states where it was legal for either medical or recreational use.4 Regardless of the clear mental and physical health benefits that Marijuana usage can bring, the Tour has been reluctant to adjust their stance on it; largely due to the guidelines set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is an organization that has put together the list of drugs that ought to be banned throughout professional sports. According to their website, “All natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited” while in competition5. This quick statement is essentially what prohibits the usage of Marijuana amongst Tour players. However, leagues such as the NBA and most recently the NFL have started to ease their stringent rules regarding Marijuana usage amongst their athletes. Realizing the innate benefits of Marijuana to the health of their players, other leagues have embraced the idea of allowing their players to use it.
According to a golfchannel.com article, when questioned about Marijuana usage on the Tour, commissioner Jay Monahan claimed: “Ultimately, we don’t determine what is a banned substance and what’s not, we rely on WADA for doing that.” 5
While the Tour does recognize WADA’s list of banned substances, they most definitely have some of their own liberties. From the same article as before, “Prior to the 2017-18 season the Tour’s list of banned substances was slightly different than the WADA list and it’s worth noting that the circuit is not ‘a signatory to the WADA Code and not required to consult with WADA on the Tour prohibited list.’ Although that changed last season it demonstrates the circuit’s ability to color outside the lines if they are so inclined… 4” Even though the Tour might want it to appear as though they can do nothing outside of the WADA regulations, they’ve got plenty of power to take a firm stance in supporting Marijuana usage amongst their players – just as the NFL did this past March.
Although yet to be confirmed, Phil Mickelson caused a media frenzy when he was spotted ingesting some form of oil during the 2019 Masters.
As is evident by both the sponsorships and rumored actions of many notable Tour players, the usage of Marijuana and its derivatives would receive a warm welcome to golf’s greatest circuit. In July of 2019, Bubba Watson partnered with cbdMD, a brand of CBD (a cannabis derivative) claiming that he has “Personally felt the benefits of cbdMD’s products,6” Following suit, Charley Hoffman partnered with Medterraa, another CBD brand, and has spoken positively of its impacts. Although yet to be confirmed, Phil Mickelson caused a media frenzy when he was spotted ingesting some form of oil during the 2019 Masters. It was immediately assumed to be CBD oil – something that might certainly help Phil manage the pain and inflammation caused by his psoriatic arthritis. These three examples speak to the ever-growing idea that Tour players are welcoming to CBD and perhaps other Marijuana products as they can offer more ways to battle some of the physical ailments that come with a career in golf.
Secondary to the improvements to players’ health, the Tour ought to realize the financial benefits they might accrue should they take a stronger stance towards Marijuana acceptance. It’s no secret that the golfing world has been rocked by injuries in recent years as Tiger Woods struggled with his back. As mentioned before, Phil Mickelson deals with psoriatic arthritis.
Further, Louis Oosthuizen had to withdraw after only 7 holes at the 2020 Players due to shoulder pain. It doesn’t take much research to realize that golfers, as is the case with most athletes, can be injury-prone. If the Tour allowed more options for pain management – and a stronger arsenal of therapies – players may be able to recover quicker, perform better, and generate more revenue.
The entire argument about the Tours stance on Marijuana can be neatly packaged into a simple ethical dilemma. If the PGA Tour knows it has the power to take a strong and authoritative stance towards supporting products that could benefit both the mental and physical health of their players, don’t they have an obligation to do so?
6. https://www.cbdmd.com/blog/post/pga-tour-golfer-bubba-watson-breaks-ground-by-part nering-with-cbdmd
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Harris is a rising senior at Washington University in St. Louis with passions for both medical sciences and the golfing world. He is an avid follower of the PGA Tour and almost any content that is golf-related. From the Courses at Forest Park to Montauk Downs, he can always be found working on his game when he’s not in class. Keen to meet new people, Harris hopes to help grow the game of golf.