Phil Jackson Says NBA Needs New Rules on Marijuana

Of all the issues that have arisen with the legalization of marijuana, perhaps none have proven as unexpected as the sudden support for changing cannabis regulations in professional sports.

This especially has happened in the National Basketball Association.

Late last year, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted he tried marijuana for pain relief after back surgery. While he said it didn’t work as well as he hoped for himself, he said that others should not be prevented from trying marijuana for pain.

He also said he believes cannabis is better for athletes than prescription painkillers.

Because of the patchwork quilt nature of marijuana laws, a player for a team in California can legally use cannabis while a player for many other teams cannot. Meanwhile the NBA itself continues to ban cannabis.

Recently, legendary coach Phil Jackson joined in the debate, saying that marijuana is part of the culture of the league and that the rules need to be changed.

Jackson Tried Cannabis

Jackson serves as president of the New York Knicks. He coached both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to 11 championships.

Jackson, on the sports talk show “We Need to Talk,” said he also used marijuana after asked about Kerr’s statements. He said that he tried cannabis all the way back in 1969, when he was a player.

“I don’t know about its medicinal ability,” Jackson said. “I had back surgery, and the year I was off, I was smoking marijuana during that period of time. I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I’ve never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation.

“I know ocular things, stomach, digestive issues and other things, I think it is regarded quite highly.”

NBA Culture

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. More than half of the states have also legalized marijuana for medical use.

Jackson said this creates an atmosphere where the NBA may have to reconsider its current rules. He said on the show: “I don’t think we have been able to stop it in the NBA. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. I think it is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.”

For their part, NBA officials released a statement after Kerr’s comments and said “marijuana is included in our banned substance list.”

Writing for Forbes, sports law expert Roger Groves said that the real issue may not even be the effectiveness of marijuana for pain relief. Rather, he wrote, professional leagues such as the NBA and National Football League have concerns that players will go “cannabis crazy” and that a reputation for having many players who use marijuana will lower league popularity.

However, he noted, the cannabis industry is now growing faster than the NFL and sports leagues need to reconsider old policies that keep players from seeking pain relief through cannabis.

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