Will schools and the NCAA ban cannabis scholarships?

Published Nov 14, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
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The National Collegiate Athletic Association, commonly referred to as the NCAA, along with schools, could legally ban cannabis sponsorships, denying student athletes the ability to monetize their success. A bipartisan congressional bill was written with the intention of allowing student athletes to monetize their success, but it contains a provision that would allow intercollegiate and colleges to block them from making any sponsorship deals with legal cannabis businesses.


The legislation would address the long-standing controversy about the inequitable payment given to college athletes. It also perpetuates the anti-marijuana policies, according to drug policy reform advocates. This position is maintained despite the state-level cannabis legalization movement.

Introduced by Anthony Gonzalez and seven other original cosponsors, the Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act prohibits associations and colleges like the NCAA from not allowing a student to be involved in intercollegiate athletics if the student athlete has entered into a sponsorship agreement. However, the Act does stipulate that the exception would not apply if the sponsorship is from a  cannabis dispensary or seller of a controlled substance, which includes cannabis. Student drug policy reform advocates have taken a strong issue with the marijuana provision section.

Let marijuana scholarships be part of student life

Louis Montoya, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, believes that these restrictions come with no scientific basis and ignore community re-investment efforts from the marijuana industry. The student athlete is a professional in his eyes, and they should have the right to seek funding from any legal service or industry that they choose. Montoya believes that as young professionals, these student athletes are capable of determining if an endorsement will hurt or help their careers.

By banning students from accepting endorsements from cannabis industries that want to re-invest in the local communities, it will only limit those opportunities that can be afforded to the young professionals. Furthermore, the bill which was filed last month would enable actions to be directed against students who get endorsement deals with tobacco, alcohol, gambling companies, along with other adult entertainment businesses.

This particular provision in the lead bill sponsor Gonzalez's eyes, seems to depart from his record on marijuana reform, as he voted to protect all state-tribal and territory cannabis programs from any federal intervention.


Civil rights

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, one of the original co-sponsors, states that it has been far too long that college athletes from across the country, many of whom are people of color, have been denied a basic right to control their image, name, and likeness. At the onset, he wanted to come to a bipartisan consensus to forward a national framework that would give college athletes the same rights that each and every American in the country is currently afforded. He believes that the measure taken is a civil rights issue.

The athletics bill is looking to make a benign exemption that would allow cannabis-related sponsorships. This policy affects students of color who have been negatively impacted by the previous rules. The athletic student of color will be unable to benefit from lucrative endorsement deals. Cannabis advocates are watching and hoping that athletes can help to play a proactive position, which will foster racial equity.

Last words

Marijuana scholarships are part of the way that new businesses are giving back to their communities. Cannabis is legal in 33 states across the country, and marijuana scholarships should not be denied to athletes. Cannabis is becoming legal in more states as we speak, and federally, the legalization of the substance could be right around the corner.

Major League Baseball earlier this year clarified their positive position on their athlete's right to consume marijuana without fear of discipline. The league did, however, move towards banning players from entering deals with cannabis companies.

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