NCAA to Change its Ways on Pot Testing

After two players for the championship-losing University of Oregon football team were suspended ahead of that game for allegedly turning up positive for marijuana, the NCAA announced recently that it will reexamine its drug testing policies.

College isn't a world apart from society. It's a microcosm.

And after realizing that athletes penalized for drug use end up dropping out of school, the NCAA has wisely followed the winds of change.

Decriminalization efforts in the United States have been inspired by the unproductive outcomes of jailing young men, often minorities, for small-time drug crime. They often drop out of jobs and productive lives. Likewise colleges have found out that punishing student athletes, also often minorities, doesn't do much good for anyone.

The NCAA has tested student-athletes for banned substances, including recreational drugs, at championship events since 1986. But student-athlete drug use survey data indicate drug testing at championships hasn't deterred recreational drug use: Alcohol use has dipped only slightly in recent years, marijuana use has remained relatively stable and prescription opiate use has grown.

Given that testing over nearly 30 years hasn't served as an adequate deterrent - plus the fact that student-athletes who are penalized for recreational drug use by losing eligibility are more likely to drop out of school - the committee [on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports] suggested the NCAA explore whether a different approach for recreational drugs is warranted.

The NCAA's drug committee wants a new policy that will "focus on educational programs instead of a traditional testing model," the association says.

The NCAA's Sport Science Institute staff will work on this new policy.

The Drug Policy Alliance, of course, was happy to hear it. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the group, says:

Punishing athletes for marijuana use has nothing to do with fairness or safety in competitive sports and everything to do with inappropriate extensions of the drug war into American life. It's great to see the NCAA join with other sports associations in revising this hypocritical and harmful policy.

Play ball.