Medicinal marijuana is legal in 36 states. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 15 states, with South Dakota and Montana – neither of which are liberal hippie enclaves – among the latest to get on board.
Among those states in which both medicinal and recreational marijuana are legal? Nevada, where billboards promoting dispensaries have become as ubiquitous as those advertising casinos and gentlemen’s clubs.
Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. It has become a popular choice for recovery and relaxation for a large number of combat sports athletes. In a survey of 170 professional fighters conducted by The Athletic earlier this year, 45.9 percent said they currently use marijuana. Another 4.7 percent said they at one point did but no longer do. A whopping 76.5 percent said they use cannabidiol (CBD) products, which are derived from cannabis.
That’s a significant percentage of athletes dealing with regular physical pain who choose to heal with weed or some derivative of it when, in the past, addictive painkillers were their only legal option.
But the Nevada Athletic Commission continues to plow ahead like a bored small-town sheriff throwing people in jail over minor traffic violations.
Niko Price is the latest fighter caught in the NAC’s “Reefer Madness” dragnet. Price was coming off the biggest result of his career, a draw with Donald Cerrone in a well-fought contest at UFC Fight Night 178 on Sept. 19.
Due to what was termed “trace amounts” of THC, the NAC is preventing Price from making a living in his chosen profession for six months and stealing – oops, I mean fining him – $8,500 of his fight purse (the commission used to make full fighter purses a matter of public record, but no longer does).
In September, Jamahal Hill, Tim Elliott and Luis Pena all got whacked for six months and fined 15 percent of their purses. In November, it was Trevin Jones, Kevin Croom and Jose Flores getting whacked. And in case you haven’t noticed, fighters at their level aren’t living the Conor McGregor lifestyle.
In addition to the fines and suspensions, several of the above names had victories earned through honest means erased from their records and turned to no contests.
THC consumption out of competition is not regulated. In-competition is different. A fighter shouldn’t be allowed to compete high, just as they shouldn’t be drunk. That’s a basic safety issue. Since we weren’t born yesterday, we understand we’re plainly not seeing a sudden spate of fighters blazing in the locker room and then heading out to the cage.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC is only promoting events stateside in their home base of Las Vegas. If you’re a fighter and don’t want to travel to “Fight Island” on the other side of the globe, Nevada is basically the only show in town and will be for some time to come.
With the UFC scrambling to cobble together enough cards to fill out their schedule, and COVID positive tests adding to the already considerable list of reasons fights fall out, accepting bouts on short notice is the surest route to staying active and getting paid, especially if you’re in that vast middle class of fighters that includes everyone from Pena to Price.
The long-given excuse by regulators is in the difficulty in determining whether a fighter used during the in-competition period, since marijuana can still show up in tests long after usage. There’s a degree of validity to this. Still, you’re telling me they’ve got the science down to such a micro level that they can determine picogram levels of M3 metabolites under 100 don’t give any performance-enhancing benefit in the case of Turinabol, but they can’t figure something out similar with THC to determine the fighter didn’t smoke right before walking out to the cage?
States like neighboring California have made good-faith efforts to get with the times. Had any of the recent Las Vegas infractions instead happened in Los Angeles, the penalty would have been $100 plus the cost of the test, with no suspension and no over-the-top confiscation of their pay. That gives the California State Athletic Commission leeway to still have the authority to impose a harsh sanction in the super-rare event someone fought while loaded, while exhibiting common sense for out-of-competition usage.
Common sense that remains in short supply in Nevada.
Hill, for his part, is back in action this week, his suspension complete. He earned a knockout win over Klidson Abreu in May and had it taken away. He’s back in Las Vegas for Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 19, where he meets Ovince Saint Preux in the co-feature, and he had some choice words at Thursday’s media day.
“I think it’s (expletive) stupid,” Hill said. “I think it’s dumb as hell. I think everything I’ve had to deal with as a result of that is dumb as (expletive). I really think they need to focus energy on things that actually matter and not goofy (expletive) like that.”
I could look through a thesaurus and not come up with better words to describe this situation than Hill did. This is dumb as hell, Nevada. It’s past due to catch up to your peers in California and stop putting needless blemishes on the careers of UFC fighters who have done nothing wrong.