David Stern spent 30 years serving as the NBA Commissioner. And from 1984 through 2014, the drug testing policies that were in place became a lot more stringent. Marijuana, in particular, was tightly regulated on Stern’s watch, and during a sit-down interview for Uninterrupted with former NBA player Al Harrington, Stern revealed why he went after players who used weed.
"It was generally known at some point, until we tightened our rules, that a lot of our players were smoking a lot of marijuana," Stern said. "In fact, some of our players came to us and said, 'Some of these guys are high coming into the game.' But we began tightening it up, and at that time, people accepted the generally held wisdom that marijuana was a gateway drug and that if you start smoking, you’re liable to go on to bigger and better stuff."
Stern obviously didn’t mention any names, but there have been players who have admitted to playing in NBA games while high in the past. Stephen Jackson, for example, once talked openly about how he used to smoke weed before games.
Despite the restrictions Stern put on players during his tenure as Commissioner, though, he is singing a much different tune in 2017. While he was once against marijuana use of any kind, he told Harrington that he watched a CNN series that changed his perception of medical marijuana, and he now believes that the professional sports leagues should take a step back and rethink their drug policies.
"I think all of the leagues are now appropriately focused on player training, structuring of the right parts of their body, player rehabilitation in the case of injury, player nutrition, player this, player that. This should be a part of the conversation," he said. "Can you imagine if we could create a situation where every superstar was able to play one additional year?"
Stern added that he believes players who play in states where medical marijuana is legal should be permitted to use it.
But while Stern may have changed his mind with regards to weed, the NBA is sticking to its current approach and rejecting the notion that any players should be allowed to use marijuana. NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued a statement on the subject and said the NBA isn’t planning on changing its drug policies anytime soon.
"While Commissioner Silver has said that we are interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana, our position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes," Bass said.
The idea of professional athletes incorporating marijuana into their training regimens will be a subject up for debate at ComplexCon in Long Beach, California on Nov. 4 and 5. Harrington—who has openly advocated for medical marijuana (and once convinced his grandmother to use it)—is set to appear on a panel called High Performance: The Future of Cannabis & Sports alongside Action Bronson, Warren Sapp, Bas Rutten, and Nate Jackson. For more information on that panel, go here.