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How Kevin Durant Ended the NBA’s Cannabis Ban

Sheldon Sommer

by Sheldon Sommer

February 8, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
How Kevin Durant Ended the NBA’s Cannabis Ban

All-star basketball player Kevin Durant recently scored a historic victory for cannabis advocacy. Previous efforts by Durant had significant involvement in the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) decision to remove cannabis from its list of banned substances.

Can NBA Players Smoke Weed?

A new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association union went into effect July 1, 2023. This agreement now allows players to consume cannabis outside of games without penalty.

The NBA has been relaxing its prohibition against cannabis since 2021 when the league decided to end random drug testing for the substance. Now, with the 2023 policy change, the league will also no longer punish players for cannabis use. Prior to the new agreement, players faced financial and professional repercussions for violating the NBA’s ban on cannabis consumption. First-time offenders who tested positive for the drug were obligated to enter the basketball league’s substance-use treatment and counseling program. A second offense came with a $25,000 fine, and a third violation would result in a five-game suspension period without pay.

Athletes will still be punished if they are high at games, practices, and other team functions. However, NBA players are no longer subject to testing or professional scrutiny for using cannabis products.

Kevin Durant on Weed in the NBA

Kevin Duran is a forward for the Phoenix Suns and one of the top scorers in NBA history. He’s also a fierce cannabis advocate. Duranat personally lobbied and met with the NBA commissioner to end the league’s penalties for players who use cannabis.

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Durant is a known investor in the cannabis e-commerce platform WeedMaps. As such, he has always been open about his enthusiasm for the plant and its medical benefits. In an interview with David Letterman last year, he stated that cannabis allows him to recover from the stress of being a professional athlete. “I think it’s far past time to address the stigmas around cannabis that still exist in the sports world as well as globally,” said Durant in 2021. Durant continues to use his influential position to propel progressive policies off-court and to further destigmatize cannabis use.

Cannabis can be a potential game-changer for addressing mental health and physical pain challenges that often accompany the pressures of competing in a high-stakes major sports league. The stress of navigating an intensely competitive environment, coupled with the physical demands of being a professional athlete, can take a toll on players’ mental well-being. It is also likely that young players new to the spotlight may additionally find themselves unprepared for and overwhelmed by the pressures of constant public scrutiny and immense career expectations.

The NBA Recognizes Potential Benefits of Medical Cannabis

Major sports organizations have recently begun acknowledging the potential health benefits of cannabis products. The NBA and other major sports leagues have taken a greater interest in understanding how these treatments contribute to athlete well-being. Therapeutic doses of cannabis in the form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) can alleviate symptoms and complications caused by anxiety, stress, injuries, and chronic pain. It may also assist with athletic recovery. So, with lower addiction potential and fewer side effects than many traditional medications, cannabis products can provide athletes helpful alternative options for pain management and mental healthcare.

In recent years, other major US sports leagues, including the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB), have taken significant steps for cannabis advocacy and normalization. These organizations are reevaluating and relaxing various restrictions on cannabis use. Both the NHL and MLB no longer designate cannabis as a banned substance. Additionally, players who test positive for the substance will not face disciplinary action. The NFL allows its players to use cannabis during off-seasons but maintains prohibition of the substance during the season of play.

By adopting more lenient cannabis policies, these sports organizations demonstrate a progressive commitment to prioritizing the holistic health and well-being of their athletes. The leagues’ policy changes also draw increased public attention to the medicinal benefits and general safety of cannabis, overall contributing to evolving public attitudes about the broader conversation of normalizing, decriminalizing, and destigmatizing cannabis use.

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