Larry Sanders “biting the bullet” for professional athletes in the US

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After suffering a season-ending injury with a broken right orbital bone due to a James Harden elbow, Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders was suspended 5 games for his third violation of the drug policy. Sanders voiced his opinions on his preferred method of medication: cannabis (marijuana), which is the source of his 5 game suspension by the NBA.

Sanders was apologetic about his cannabis use but also vigorously defended it. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and, he further explained:

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me.. I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has.

In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.

The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it’s a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that.”

Last summer, August 20, 2013, Larry Sanders signed a contract extension (all NBA contracts are guaranteed) on his rookie contract (out of Virginia Commonwealth [VCU]) for 4 years, $44 million. Injuries have plagued Sanders this season and his comments about cannabis bring an interesting situation to both Milwaukee and the NBA.

Sanders has stated that he is willing to accept the consequences for his comments, but he is “biting the bullet” for other professional athletes by speaking out about its possible medical uses.

Sports Illustrated profiled Larry Sanders and what has happened during his young life would surprise most. An unhealthy home environment caused Larry, his mother, and sister Cheyenne to become vagabonds on the streets. Sanders developed hobbies: drawing, skateboard building, and gospel music to use as a means to escaping to a positive mindset. Sanders on how important drawing was during those times:

“Drawing was a way for my mind to take a break from everything I’d seen and focus on the lines. It was a release for me. I could zone out and just be there.”

Sanders wants to open a “shelter for battered women” due to women in his life suffering from domestic violence situations.

Importance of Sanders’ Comments

The Milwaukee Bucks franchise has expressed its disappointment in Sanders’ actions. Luckily for both Sanders and Milwaukee, Larry was cleared by both the team doctor and an independent doctor contracted by the NBA to serve his suspension before the end of the season.

However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the banned drug on the United States Controlled Substances Act‘s schedule list that makes cannabis (marijuana) an illegal drug. Schedule I is the most dangerous and addictive with no medical purposes, Schedule V is the least dangerous and addictive with a possible medical purpose. Because of all cannabis having some percentage of THC, the federal government then believes “marijuana has no medical purposes”. This federal scheduling of THC as a Schedule I drug contradicts the concept of medical and/or recreational cannabis at the state level. With the laws as of today, April 22, 2014, the federal government believes cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II drugs, are less dangerous and addictive than THC (cannabis/marijuana), a Schedule I drug. To put it into further perspective, THC is in the same schedule as heroin.

Knowing this information can frustrate an injured player like Larry Sanders because his own state does not approve of medical cannabis and neither does the federal government. Wisconsin, the state where Milwaukee is located in, does not have medical cannabis legislation in their state constitution. The NBA runs with federal (and international for Toronto) guidelines and one of those guidelines is the illegality of cannabis.

Sanders claims that the legality of cannabis would solve this entire issue, and it may, but more importantly, the legality of cannabis would “open the doors” to researching medical cannabis’ effects on sports-acquired injuries (concussions, other pain-constant injuries, etc.).

Whether Sanders will receive additional disciplinary action or not, the concept of medical cannabis in sports has been introduced and cannot be ignored. Larry Sanders is not the first person to be involved in a drug policy due to marijuana, but he is the first to be as open about the issue as he is. Prescription medications may not necessarily be the preferred answer for many athletes, but the risk of a suspension may deter athletes away from marijuana as a medication.

If an athlete would prefer to use cannabis (marijuana) as a medication than alcohol, a legal drug after the end of the (alcohol) Prohibition in the United States, then the National Basketball Association would have to wait until the federal government either reschedules or removes THC from the Controlled Substances Act in order to follow federal laws.

Now that Sanders has served his suspension, Milwaukee can focus on rebuilding their franchise after a dreadful season.


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