Written by SFLC Podcast Co-Host Steven Dunn
What the continued legalization of marijuana will do for MMA in the coming years.
The unhappy residents of California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine could take some solace on election night because their states had voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. While the country cried about, “the end of the world as we know it,” about 60% of Americans were in the right place to put on some REM (wink) and light-up a fat one.
These were four big steps in the direction of complete marijuana legalization, and it has sweeping implications for the country. People just aren’t freaked out by weed anymore, despite what your Sunday school teacher may have told you. It’s becoming as familiar as booze and cigarettes, without all of the baggage of being fatal.
I’m not a weed evangelist myself. I’ve only tried it once via a brownie. My whole world flipped on its axis and I felt like I had been in a hot tub for six hours…basically, it wasn’t for me. At the same time, I’ve been a professional jazz musician for the better part of 15 years, so I’ve been around the herb once or twice. I fall into the, “If it’s not hurting anyone, who cares?” camp. I’m just clarifying my position so no one assumes there an agenda here.
Marijuana and MMA
The point being, anything that impacts the country also affects mixed martial arts. The question is: How will marijuana legalization, especially in MMA hot spots like California and Nevada, influence the sport? I’m sure the Diaz brothers are reading this now, boiling over with anticipation…
Firstly, gird your loins, because weed is not suddenly going to come off the banned substances list. Federal regulation, athletic commissions, and sports regulatory bodies don’t all follow each other in lock-step. A prime example of this is that a new rule set for pro-MMA is going into effect everywhere next year…except New Jersey, whose athletic commission refuses to adopt it. These things take the kind of time you can’t really count on your fingers. Pro-MMA had a hell of battle getting legalized in New York amid comparisons to gay porn. You can only imagine the misinformation associated with marijuana when put in front of commissions old enough to have seen “Reefer Madness” in theaters.
Another parallel is how USADA treats testosterone and estrogen blockers: legal for people to use, but banned for use in MMA. This is why a number of athletes can get pulled off of cards or fined but not arrested for using certain PEDs. Of course, the performance enhancing abilities of weed are hilariously debatable. I’ve seen people smoke- out and become damn near comatose, while others are completely fine.
One time, I had a guy I worked with in a band ask me how he had been acting the past month. “Who the hell would remember?” you’re probably thinking…I was too. He kept asking me, making me give him a specific answer. When I said he had acted like he always did, he simply exhaled in relief and said, “Shew, because I was fucked up the whole time.”Apparently his girlfriend had broken up with him and he thought all the solutions to his problems were in his bong. He was baked more than a batch of brownies and he was fine. Just like with alcohol and any other drug, it affects different people in different ways.
The caveat to all of this is that USADA does actually offer a therapeutic use exemption for medical marijuana, meaning it has to be prescribed by a doctor. It doesn’t work if you smoked it because you were listening to Dr. John, however. We might see a medical marijuana TUE become the new TRT. I want to see what “High-as-a-kite Vitor” looks like…
A more dubious side effect is that more people are going to get popped for weed. Nevada is the fight capital of the world, and more and more top level fighters are choosing to live there. Marijuana is going to be all around them, and these people aren’t machines. In fact, most of them are 20-somethings who are frequently in pain, so the temptation is pretty stark. Even an athlete like Jon Jones couldn’t just say no to cocaine when he was at a party in Brazil, and that drug has never done anything positive ever (depending on your attachment to 80’s music).
Looking into the future, I think universal marijuana legalization will only improve the quality of the sport. As previously mentioned, common bumps and bruises associated with training camps will be treated quickly and easily, as opposed to blossoming into full-blown injuries the week of the fight. It will probably help many fighters recover faster between contests as well, making a 4-fight year less of an anomaly. Plus, fighters who get in their own way mentally will have a simple, natural remedy for their nerves. Imagine the damage a Uriah Hall could do if he could just take the edge off. Martial artists like Eddie Bravo have been touting the benefits of weed and sport for years, and we’re seeing more of his system creep into MMA as time goes on. Eventually, marijuana will be a common part of many training regimens (if it isn’t already). There will come a time where a joint after a workout will become a normal part of a camp like American Top Team or the Blackzillians, but that will only get athletes in trouble in the current age.
Until that time, however, the professional fighters of the world need to mind themselves and bide their time. The only question is whether it will take 4, 8, or many more years before it becomes completely legal. Until then, we’ll all have to cross our fingers whenever a Diaz gets booked.