Attitudes toward marijuana in the United States are rapidly evolving. A Gallup poll from last October found that a full two-thirds of Americans feel that marijuana should be legalized. For perspective, consider that a mere 12 percent of Americans said they favored legalization in 1969. Much of this progress can be attributed to a wealth of scientific research demonstrating the medicinal properties of marijuana. For example, studies have shown that the terpenes from cannabis strains high in pinene (EG. can be used to effectively treat inflammation.

Unsurprisingly, the shift in public opinion has had an influence on government policy. Recreational marijuana is currently legal in 11 states, as well as the District of Columbia. A further 22 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Similarly, in other countries like Canada, online orders are frequent in numbers among the marijuana consumers. For instance, online dispensary in Canada is among the top suppliers of legal marijuana.

So what does all this mean for professional athletes? Are sports in step with the rest of the culture when it comes to marijuana? Not quite. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) prohibits the use of marijuana among professional athletes unless they have a Therapeutic Use Exemption. With that said, there is a threshold for THC: athletes are only considered positive if they have more than 150 ng/ml in their system. There is no threshold for other cannabinoids—any amount will trigger a positive test and result in sanctions.

American athletes competing in national and international competitions are subject to USADA’s rules. But what about independent American sports leagues? Let’s have a look at the different policies, some of which are changing as I write.


It was reported last December that the MLB will remove marijuana from its list of banned substances. Under the new rules, which go into effect this year, ball players who test positive for THC—as well as other “drugs of abuse” like opiates and cocaine—will first be prescribed a treatment plan. Only if they fail to meet the conditions of their treatment will they face disciplinary action.


Current NFL policy is strict: marijuana is a banned substance and any player who tests positive for it is liable to be fined and/or suspended. The threshold for THC is very low at 35 ng/ml. That said, a new proposal has recently been submitted by the Players Association. If the league adopts it, a positive test for marijuana would no longer carry a suspension, and the threshold for THC would be increased to 150 ng/ml.


The NHL has a more liberal approach. Players are not regularly tested for marijuana or other recreational drugs. If they do test positive they are obliged to check into the league’s substance abuse program. Fines and suspensions are not a factor.


NBA players are randomly tested four times during the season, and the THC threshold of 15 mg/ml is one of the lowest around. A player who tests positive must undergo a course of treatment for substance abuse. A second violation carries a $25,000 fine. The consequence of a third positive is a five-game suspension, with another five games tacked on for each subsequent violation.


The MLS’s policy on weed is unclear, though it reportedly follows USADA guidelines. Players are subjected to random drug screenings throughout the year.

Mixed martial arts

Marijuana is banned by the UFC and can result in long suspensions. In 2016, Diego Brandao was suspended for nine months (later reduced to six) after testing positive for THC. Cynthia Calvillo was also out of action for six months, while Kelvin Gastelum and Alen Amedovski both served three months—reduced from six after they completed a substance abuse education program.