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Marijuana Legalizations Won't Change Anything for NCAA Athletes

Two states voted to make recreational use of the drug legal in yesterday's election, but nothing will change for student-athletes.


Two of the more interesting outcomes from yesterday's elections were measures in Colorado and Washington that made recreational use of marijuana legal (please don't discuss the rest of the election in the comments). Naturally, a lot of people began asking the question: how does this affect college athletes? Can they get suspended for testing positive for pot when it's legal in those states?

The answer is yes, and that's the case for several reasons. First and foremost, student athletes can already get suspended for using legal substances. Bylaw blogger John Infante put it this way:

If the NCAA decides to keep marijuana verboten even after the whole country decides to legalize it, then athletes can get suspended for it. That's perfectly within its powers to do.

That brings up the second point. Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, and federal law supersedes state law. The best way to illustrate that in regards to this topic is to look at medical marijuana dispensaries in California. The DEA has been cracking down on them because federal law does not recognize the state's legalization of the drug of medicinal purposes. As the Colorado governor humorously put it, "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly."

Finally, we've already seen a test of this kind of thing. During the 2011 season, LSU suspended three players after they tested positive for synthetic marijuana. At the time, some forms of synthetic pot were legal in the state of Louisiana. That fact didn't stop those guys from having to sit for a game.

So while it's perfectly fair game to make jokes about Colorado, Colorado State, Washington, and Washington State having recruiting advantages, in practice, nothing is going to be different for them or anyone else until NCAA rules themselves change.