Most players in the NFL would not think to ask the league for permission to freely smoke weed, but that’s exactly what Michael James opted to do this off season. James applied for a marijuana therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) from the NFL, which would allow him to use cannabis to help manage his pain but was denied. We were fortunate enough to meet Mr. James at the NCIA Lobby Days event in Washington D.C. at the Phoenix Park Hotel, and he granted us a short interview to better understand his stance on the NFL’s Banned Substance List and what he would like to see change.
James suffers from chronic pain and marijuana is the only remedy that has provided relief without negative side effects. He suffered an ankle break in his 2013 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the league provided opioids to manage his pain. The pills did help with the pain, but James became addicted to the pills over the course of his recovery. His wife, Aubrey James, recognized that he had a problem and suggested marijuana as an alternative. In the meantime, James suffered a second injury and feels like his career now hinges on his ability to manage pain through cannabis treatment.
Mike James, Jr.’s story has evolved into much more than that of a young man trying to make it into the NFL. His journey further challenges the NFL’s stance on cannabis and the merits of it being still listed on the Banned Substance List. It is also another example of cannabis as an alternative to opioid-based prescription drugs. Deaths caused by prescription opioid-based overdoses in the United States has reached unthinkable levels. The NCIA provides him with a platform to tell his story directly to federal lawmakers.
While James was hesitant to try weed for pain management due to the social stigma and being aware of the league policy regarding the plant, he wanted to feel better and kick the opioid addiction, so he took a chance. Cannabis provided the pain relief James was looking for, along with relief from the addiction that had began to impact his life.
In March of 2018 the NFL denied Michael James’s application for a therapeutic-use exemption citing that marijuana is a banned substance. The league’s medical officials also disagreed with James’s doctors who were arguing that medical marijuana was essential to his treatment.
At this stage in the process James and the NFLPA will not discuss any appeals or what other options are available to the player at this time. Michael James is looking for an opportunity to continue his career in the NFL, but acknowledges for him, the only safe way to do this is with the aid of cannabis.
States like Colorado that have legalized adult-use cannabis, have reported that the amount of opioid overdose deaths have declined and that less people are filling their opioid-based prescriptions. There are countless testimonials on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, yet groups like the NFL and the federal government continue to ignore any evidence that suggests that athletes and the general public will benefit by the removal of cannabis from banned substance lists or the Schedule 1 status of cannabis.