Pro Basketball League Allows Players to Use CBD Despite Federal Prohibition

By Michael Maharrey

Earlier this summer, Big3 basketball became the first professional sports league to allow its players to use cannabidiol (CBD). This represents another step toward nullifying federal hemp prohibition in practice and effect.

CBD is derived from cannabis, but since it’s generally processed from industrial hemp, it does not contain high levels of THC – the active ingredient in marijuana that makes people high. It’s proven effective in treating a number of medical conditions, including seizures, pain, inflammation and anxiety.

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In June, Big3 announced it would allow its athletes to use CBD for pain management and recovery.

“Despite many states around the country making efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, both medicinally and recreationally, professional athletes who could benefit medicinally are prevented from doing so by league outdated mandates,” the league said in a statement. “More than a dozen countries, including Canada and Israel, have approved CBD-based medications for both professional athletes and consumers … In the U.S., the shift is beginning to happen as the medication is not only used for pain management, but preferred over the powerfully addictive opioids and pain-relief drugs that are often the only other option.’’

You can buy CBD products over the counter in many states. As a result, people mistakenly believe CBD is legal. In fact, many mainstream articles claim it is “legal in all 50 states.” But the federal government begs to differ. In fact, the DEA considers CBD a schedule 1 drug, and as such, generally illegal across the country.

A drug called Epidiolex approved by the FDA June 27, 2018, to treat seizures in a rare form of epilepsy is the only CBD product federally-legal, and then only with a prescription.

People in the cannabis industry who argue that CBD is legal over the counter rely on the “hemp amendment” in the 2014 farm bill. But the law only legalized hemp production for limited purposes. It “allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.”

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Drug Enforcement Agency released a “statement of principles” to guide interpretation of the hemp section in the Farm Bill. It states, “The growth and cultivation of industrial hemp may only take place in accordance with an agricultural pilot program to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp established by a State department of agriculture or State agency responsible for agriculture in a State where the production of industrial hemp is otherwise legal under State law.”

In short, the current federal law authorizes farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs – for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.

The definition of “commercial” remains murky and has created significant confusion.

The statement of principles also asserted that industrial hemp programs are limited to fiber and seed. It didn’t mention CBD oil or other edible hemp products. The DEA has interpreted that to mean they remain illegal. According to the DEA, CBD cannot be sold under any circumstances.

An Indiana TV station interviewed DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

It’s not legal. It’s just not.

Payne says cannabis plants are considered a Schedule I controlled substance, and medicinal oils derived from cannabis plants are illegal according to two federal laws: the Controlled Substance Act and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. He said confusion surrounding the Agricultural Act of 2014 (better known as the “Farm Bill”) is frequently cited as legal justification by those who want to manufacture, sell or use CBD oil. The DEA believes the Farm Bill permits only CBD research — not CBD marketing and sales.

“Anybody who’s in violation [of the federal laws] always runs that risk of arrest and prosecution,” he said.

Nevertheless, people across the country are selling, buying and using CBD, and nullifying the federal law in practice and effect. The Big3’s decision to allow players to use CBD takes another step toward mainstreaming it and further undermines federal prohibition efforts.

Other sports leagues may follow suit. According to a report in Forbes, pro hockey might be next in line. The NHL has traditionally been lenient on cannabis use.

Hockey has never necessarily been willing to openly condone cannabis use, though, until last month. National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) executive director Don Fehrs said it’s ‘possible that the NHL and NHLPA could come to an informal understanding about marijuana usage among players in the League in the future.’

This demonstrates an important truth. When people begin to recognize the benefits of a substance and markets begin to develop, nobody cares much what the federal government says.

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at and like him on Facebook HERE

Image credit: Waking Times

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