Cannabis, the NFL, and Thanksgiving Table Talk

A 4 Min ReadThanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Centered around food, it rightly encompasses gratitude and reflection upon the things in life for which we are thankful. It is also the convergence of the Three Fs; Family, Friends, and Football. In many households this year, medical and adult cannabis use will also be part of the conversation which remains a controversial subject in many families. This is also true for the NFL® as it remains a banned substance for its players, but a change in policy may be on the way.


The NFL and Thanksgiving Day

Even back in the day of the three network TV universe you could always count on two NFL games that provided a needed distraction on Thanksgiving Day. The perennial teams were the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys hosting whatever teams that were’ selected as their respective opponents that year. The Lions began their Turkey Day tradition in 1934, followed by the Cowboys in 1966. Both endeavors began as marketing ploys to attract fans which turned into a national tradition. If you’re keeping score, the league added a third TG Day game in 2006.


Medical Cannabis and NFL Players

Football fans tend to be passionate about their teams (an understatement for sure) and know it is a game predicated on strength, speed, strategy, and outright violence. Injuries are common, many times they are career ending in severity, and every game takes its toll on the players’ bodies. For several years, players’ use of cannabis was an open secret even if officially banned. Its ability to reduce muscle spasms, inflammation and pain without side effects made it a go-to option for many players. The most famous advocate was Miami Dolphin’s running back Ricky Williams who chose suspension over stopping his use of cannabis for pain management. He has since launched his own cannabis brand, Real Wellness.

As a result of the recent mid-term elections, a total of thirty-three states, along with Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico permit medical cannabis for adults, and ten states allow adult-use. However, even if an NFL team plays in state that permits cannabis use, NFL policy denies use by its players. The NFL allows 35 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood or urine, which is a miniscule amount. While apparently there are ways to circumvent testing, if a player exceeds that threshold, he is subject to fines and suspension. The NFL Players Union is finally listening to its members regarding cannabis rights and is conducting its own study of medical cannabis for pain management. In August 2017, the NFL offered to join the study which is a welcome step in the right direction. In addition, Athletes for Care is conducting research on cannabis for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Former Green Bay Packer’s tight end Martellus Bennett stated in a USA Today article that 89 percent of players used cannabis. In April 2018, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Lions running back Mike James officially requested a “therapeutic use” exemption under league policy to use cannabis to treat a “diagnosed medical problem” and avoid opiate use. His request remains pending with the NFL.


NFL Teams Playing on Thanksgiving 2018

This year, the Chicago Bears are playing the Lions, the Cowboys are playing the Washington Redskins, and the New Orleans Saints are playing the Atlanta Falcons. For the record, this means that three teams, the Lions, Saints, and Redskins, play where adult medicinal cannabis use is legal. But they are denied permission to use medicinal cannabis that is available to other adults in those cities. Will the games be on at your gathering? If so, will they be on before, during, or after the Big Meal? If the TV is off during the meal and you find yourself engaged in a family conversation about cannabis, we have some helpful tips ready to go.


TG Meal Advice: If you’re planning on serving cannabis-infused Thanksgiving confections, read our earlier article about it.


Tips for Talking about Cannabis on Thanksgiving Day

It’s been said that three topics to avoid discussing on Thanksgiving are religion, politics, and why cousin Edna is not married. For many families, cannabis will be also on this list. In a state like California, it’s easy to forget that the topic is controversial and that a negative stigma remains in vast parts of the country. This remains true even in states with medicinal cannabis laws.

If you find yourself engaged in a cannabis conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table, we have some additional Helpful Tips to guide your way:

  • Don’t go into attack mode. Be civil and deploy facts.
  • It helps people and pets for a variety of medical conditions.
  • Colorado has the lowest state employment rate in the nation, thanks in part to cannabis jobs.
  • According to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, cannabis sales may generate over $28 billion dollars in overall tax revenue.
  • Teenage use is down in states that ended cannabis prohibition.
  • DUI arrests are down in both Colorado and Washington.
  • The failed War on Drugs wasted billions of dollars in tax payer money and in part created the largest, most expensive incarcerated population in the world.
  • According to a recent Pew Research poll, 62 percent of Americans support legalization.
  • Many of the NFL players you are watching on TG may use cannabis for pain.

We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year and that it provides an opportunity to be with loved ones, whether they are family, friends, or both. Please share your family conversations and stories with us.


Philip Rebentisch is a writer and the Content Editor for Three Wells.

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