Marijuana in the NFL: Josh Gordon’s Ban Upheld by Goodell

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After waiting four months to hear the NFL’s ruling on whether or not he’d be suspended for the entire 2014 season for marijuana use, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon finally got the bad news Wednesday: His 16-game ban was upheld, effective immediately, for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon will miss an entire calendar year, which may include next season’s training camp, and will have to apply for reinstatement next year.

“I’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization, and our fans,” Gordon said in a statement following the league’s decision to deny his appeal. “I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team and the Cleveland Browns staff.”

For all the gray that exists in the ever-more lenient U.S. laws surrounding marijuana use (it’s now recreationally legal in two NFL cities, Seattle and Denver), the NFL’s policy proves black-and-white. Gordon’s A-Sample was slightly above the league’s THC threshold of 15 ng/mL – while still within the false-positive window – and his B-Sample was slightly below it. Swap the labels, test the B-Sample first, and Josh Gordon doesn’t miss a single snap.

Worse for Gordon, the NFL is considering increasing the THC threshold, which is currently well below the standard of most U.S. institutions (50 ng/mL), and 10-fold lower than the threshold for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which governs the Olympics (150 ng/mL). WADA increased its line from 15 ng/mL last May “as a matter of fairness, and to provide consistency.” Doctors also often have trouble determining the timing of past drug use due to “individual differences in drug metabolism and excretions,” with one study participant showing a concentration above 20 ng/mL 67 days after their last drug exposure.

Many assumed that Gordon, who led all receivers with 1,646 yards last year while setting the Browns single-season record, would receive a lighter punishment following the league’s controversial two-game ban of Ravens running back Ray Rice, who punched-out his fiancee (now wife) in an elevator, and was caught on camera dragging her unconscious body by her hair through a hotel lobby earlier this year. Shorter bans than Gordon’s have also been handed down for everything including run-ins with the law, multiple arrests in an offseason, aggressive hazing, and cleat-stomping opponents during a game.

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