Montrezl Harrell's Weed Arrest Is a Bigger Problem for the NBA Than You Think
Montrezl Harrell's marijuana arrest was not good news for the NBA. When Harrell was arrested with three pounds of marijuana on June 12 in Richmond, Kentucky, it revealed a set of much bigger problems regarding weed, the NBA and professional sports in general.
The biggest problem? There's no reason the consumption, possession or manufacture of weed should be illegal in professional sports. Now, the NBA has a unique opportunity to set a precedent for getting rid of the stigma.
Why Harrell felt the need to risk his career over an estimated $9,000 worth of marijuana remains befuddling. But there's the bigger issue of someone shuffling weed between states like some 1920s bootlegger. The clandestine nature of his actions reflects the bigger problem.
Why are we here?
What Did Montrezl Harrell Do Wrong?
Montrezl Harrell is a free agent this summer. That means the 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year is up for a big payday after seven seasons in the NBA. The former Louisville star already has made $34.1 million in career earnings.
But because of his arrest for possession of marijuana with intent to traffic in Kentucky — a ridiculous charge, all things considered — all of that is in peril.
Harrell has deep roots in Kentucky as a former college hero, and he did himself no favor in getting busted in a state that's about 20 years behind marijuana laws. Only CBD oil is currently legal there.
But does anyone really think he was trafficking pot? It doesn't take a genius to see the charges are going to be dropped down to some form of misdemeanor possession pretty quickly.
But here we are, doing this stupid dance, trying to make it seem like Harrell has done something wrong. If you can wrap your head around that, then maybe you can understand why it represents a bigger problem for basketball than you might think.
NBA Has Suspended Random Weed Testing Since Pandemic
The NBA has been the most progressive of the four major sports leagues when it comes to how it views marijuana for quite some time.
It took a big leap forward when it suspended random testing for weed in March 2020 as the pandemic hit the U.S.. The NBA suspended play and kept the policy in place through the bubble in Orlando in the summer and all of 2020 and again through the 2021-2022 season.
This is what we like to call a good start.
NBA Player Empowerment: Being Open About Marijuana Use
This is a new era for player empowerment across sports, and the NBA's players lead the way when it comes to speaking their minds.
You don't need to look any further for an example than superstar Kevin Durant's appearance on "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction" hosted by David Letterman in May 2022. Durant, one of the greatest players of all time and a two-time NBA champion, admitted not only to using marijuana but to "actually being high right now" during the interview.
That Durant was so lucid during the interview — he compared weed to having a glass of wine — underlined the point that old stigmas surrounding marijuana and its uses are out the window.
David Stern Wanted Marijuana Off the Banned List
Doing away with random testing for marijuana isn't going to be good enough. The NBA needs to do away with testing for weed altogether. That was the league's policy before 1999. Then, NBA commissioner David Stern instituted testing for the drug when the players started snitching on themselves.
"Players were complaining about other players being high during games," Stern said in a 2017 interview. "And at the time, we kind of believed the old idea that marijuana was a gateway drug."
By 2017, Stern acknowledged the idea of weed being a "gateway drug" was antiquated and the current understanding of its use had evolved. It's been five years since then.
Not only did Stern think players who lived and played in states where the drug was legalized should be exempt from testing or the penalties that came with positive tests, but that weed "should be removed from the banned (substances) list altogether."
And you know what? He was right.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Montrezl Harrell currently plays in North Carolina for the Charlotte Hornets — a team in a state with some of the toughest marijuana laws in the country.
That may have had something to do with him trying to be so secretive about his pot use. Of course, his arrest could have been totally avoided if the NBA did away with marijuana as a banned substance. It may have taken some of the stigma off its use, and it may have kept him out of trouble.
Of all the dumb things I hate about sports — Roger Goodell as NFL commisioner, wooden bats in NCAA baseball, "load management" for NBA players — the archaic rules surrounding marijuana in all four of the major professional North American leagues might be the thing I hate the most.
The quicker the leagues move to change those rules and the quicker the few remaining states where marijuana is fully illegal work toward a more progressive view of weed and its role in society, the better off we're all going to be.
Now, does somebody have the number for a good lawyer in Kentucky?