Colleges across the country have been slowly easing penalties facing student–athletes who fail screenings for cannabis, a new Associated Press analysis has found. And statements by the NCAA’s medical chief suggest the organization is shifting its focus away from recreational drugs and toward substances it considers cheating.
AP looked at policies from 57 of the 65 schools in the Southeastern Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, as well as Notre Dame.
Since 2005, 23 of the schools have either reduced penalties for failed tests involving cannabis and certain other substances or allowed athletes to test positive more times before facing suspension or dismissal. In Washington state and Oregon, which legalized recreational cannabis use during the time period AP analyzed, punishment has eased significantly despite the fact that schools still prohibit it:
Schools in other states adopt an array of policies, but many have become more lenient toward cannabis and other so-called street drugs, even in states where cannabis remains illegal. Athletic directors say the focus is increasingly on rehabilitation rather than punishment, especially as cultural attitudes toward cannabis change.
“It’s a moving target, and we have to find that balance between being too punitive and not punitive enough, and making sure that we help people that have a problem,” Utah athletic director Chris Hill told AP.
The changes also reflect the NCAA’s focus on performance-enhancing drugs rather than recreational ones. Athletes who test positive for PEDs usually face a one-year suspension, while an initial positive test for cannabis typically results in counseling but no suspension.
Such policies align with views of the NCAA’s top doctor, who told the AP he feels the body should worry about cheating, not policing morality:
It’d be a mistake not to mention reports Tuesday night that three Clemson football players headed for the Orange Bowl have been suspended for failed drug tests. As of Wednesday afternoon, however, it still wasn’t clear what substances were detected.