News broke yesterday that David Stern, National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner from 1984-2014, came out in support of cannabis reform in the NBA. His comments came during an interview conducted by retired NBA player Al Harrington. When I first heard about the news I was happy, having been an NBA fan longer than I have even been a cannabis fan. But when I heard about his reasoning applied, my happiness quickly subsided. Below is what Mr. Stern had to say via an article posted by Sports Illustrated:
“I’m now at the point where, personally, I think [marijuana] probably should be removed from the ban list,” Stern said. “I think there is universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal.”
“It’s a completely different perception,” Stern added. “I think we have to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement and let you do what is legal in your state. If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I think you should be allowed to do what’s legal in your state.”
It’s great that Mr. Stern is finally getting on the right side of history, but it’s extremely lame that it took his so long to get where he claims to be at now in regards to the NBA’s cannabis policy. I was hopeful before I read his comments that he would do a Dr. Sanjay Gupta and couple his support for cannabis reform with a sincere apology for being wrong for so many years. David Stern’s comments have to pour some salt on old wounds for players that were penalized for cannabis during his tenure as the head of the NBA.
As many cannabis activists have pointed out, David Stern is basically using a similar tactic that former Attorney General Eric Holder is employing, in that both individuals have expressed support for cannabis reform but only after they are now no longer in a position to do anything about it. David Stern’s reasoning for getting on the right side of history has been applicable for many years now. Yes, states with NBA teams have legalized cannabis for medical and adult use, but that was true when David Stern was the NBA commissioner, as pointed out by the website ran by retired NBA player Clifford Robinson. Below is what was posted on his website, UncleCliffy.com:
David Stern served as head of the NBA from 1984-2014, which includes the entire 18 year period in which Clifford Robinson played in the league. David Stern’s endorsement of cannabis reform in the NBA is a great thing, and should be celebrated, but it begs the question, ‘why now and not sooner?’ After all, medical cannabis has been legal at the state level since 1996 when California votes approved medical cannabis legalization. Since that time a number of states have followed suit. Cannabis became legal for adult use in Colorado (home of the Denver Nuggets) in 2012. If David Stern’s reasoning is that players should be able to do what’s legal in their state, then why didn’t that reasoning apply previously when Stern was in a position to actually do something about it? Why is he only now getting on the right side of history?
The Uncle Cliffy team is definitely happy to see David Stern endorse cannabis reform in the NBA, but it’s bittersweet given the fact that so many players were harmed by the NBA’s cannabis prohibition policy during Mr. Stern’s tenure, including and especially Clifford Robinson. Players like Cliff had to endure a tremendous amount of stigma because they were penalized by the NBA for consuming cannabis, and many continue to deal with that stigma still to this day. The opportunities to coach, make official league appearances, and be hired in league media roles that non-sanctioned players are regularly presented with are not offered to NBA players that have been branded with the ‘cannabis scarlet letter.’ Why is that?
David Stern was at the helm all three times that Clifford Robinson was suspended for cannabis use, including in 2007 when Robinson was suspended for 5 games during the playoffs. David Stern’s support for cannabis prohibition in the NBA didn’t just affect players, it also affected the players’ families. This is especially true for the kids of players that had to go to school and deal with the stigma of having a parent involved in a very high profile suspension for consuming a plant that Mr. Stern now claims should no longer be prohibited by the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that David Stern now seems to be in support of cannabis reform in professional sports. But I have to assume that for players that were harmed by cannabis prohibition during David Stern’s time as head of the NBA, his words likely ring hollow and seem to come way after the fact. If David Stern truly feels the way that he claims to feel, he should also feel some guilt for overseeing a league policy that was incredibly harmful for players that decided to make the safer choice. He should also want to push for more than just medical cannabis reform in the NBA. A medical-only approach will likely lead to selective enforcement and the continued perpetuation of institutional racism via suspending players for cannabis convictions that occur away from the team. The NBA and its teams have the authority to penalize players that are the victims of the racist policy that is cannabis prohibition in society, which is obviously unacceptable, and should be something that David Stern (and current and retired NBA players alike) should want to avoid in every way.