By Mark Berman
Although Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest has come out against California's pro-marijuana Prop 19, many of his fellow NBA colleagues may disagree. The league is known as a haven for pot smokers -- always has been, and apparently always will be.
Depending on who you listen to, upwards of 70% of the league smokes marijuana. The New York Times reported in 1997 that it was 60%-70%. Former power forward Charles Oakley said in 2001 it's 50%-60%. A 2005 Rocky Mountain News survey of players put the figure at 30%. And admitted off-season smoker Josh Howard came up with the 70% figure in 2008 -- and since he smokes, he ought to know.
The NBA has been testing players for marijuana since 1999 -- a year after then-Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey wrote a column for The Washington Post called "A Clean and Sober NBA" which outlined the league's problems with marijuana and alcohol. The NBA became the last league to test for pot.
The latest incident involves Michael Beasley, who was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves this off-season. Team president David Kahn told the local ESPN Radio affiliate, “He’s a very young and immature kid who smoked too much marijuana and has told me that he’s not smoking anymore, and I told him that I would trust him as long as that was the case.”
The NBA immediately fined Kahn $50,000 for his comments, as well as fining the team an additional $50,000. The pro-marijuana magazine High Times writes:
The association is always quick to distance itself from the sticky-icky, at least in the public eye, since it doesn’t mesh with the family-friendly corporate image that the NBA seeks to project to the mainstream. Yet the reality is that marijuana has long been as much a part of the NBA as the nothing-but-net three-pointer.
The magazine goes on:
Whether it’s half the league or just a third smoking pot, the simple fact is that marijuana’s here to stay, even in the NBA. The day will finally come when a player challenges the league’s pot policy—especially if he has a legitimate medical reason or lives in a state that has legalized it, as California may do in November. And when that day comes, professional sports may finally recognize that, far from hurting players, pot actually helps them remain on the field.