LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Professional fighters in Nevada will no longer be punished for smoking pot. The Nevada State Athletic Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances for combat athletes.
13 Action News spoke with Stephen J. Cloobeck, the chairman of the commission, who says this decision was overdue.
"What I wanted to do is become the worldwide leader in athletics, boxing, and MMA," said Cloobeck. "Marijuana is legal in the state and has been for some time. This has been debated and discussed in the past, and I wanted to plant my flag as the new chairman because it's about time that Nevada continues to be the gold standard in combat sports."
The debate over marijuana use among athletes has been thrust back in the spotlight after the International Olympic Committee banned sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson from this year's Olympics for testing positive for THC Cloobeck called that decision deplorable but says today's change was not the result of public pressure.
"This has been worked on for years, and with my leadership and the trailing leadership of Anthony Marnell, we've got it over the finish line. This has been planned for months," said Cloobeck.
When asked why it took so long to change this policy, Cloobeck said, "What we did differently this time is we had the Attorney General's office prepare a memorandum for us to show us that we did have the power to make this movement and that the management of the commission does have the ability to execute on it. So we stood behind the Attorney General's office and we followed through on the governor's wishes to try to make this happen. And we had a very lively debate for about 25 minutes, and we came to a resolution and came to unanimous approval."
Jeff Novitzky, the senior vice president of Athlete Health and Performance, has praised the Athletic Commission's decision.
"The Nevada Commission did the right thing today, and they did the right thing by looking at the science," said Novitzky. "And what the science shows here is there's little to no correlation between urinary THC excretion, that's the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and impairment."
"And that's the keyword here is impairment. We don't want fighters showing up impaired under the influence of marijuana, but what those fighters did a month before they fight, a week before they fight, heck even the night before their fight has no correlation to impairment," Novitzky continued.
Novitzky says the NSAC's old policy was based on people's personal beliefs about marijuana, and cost fighters thousands of dollars in fines and years of their careers to suspensions.
"The only position in anti-doping should be: Are athletes getting an advantage? Or, if they're using a drug, are they a detriment to themselves? Are they putting themselves in harm and in danger? And again, the science with marijuana would say that even use the night before a competition doesn't have any effect over those two things. There's not an advantage to the athlete and they're not putting themselves at any risk," said Novitzky.
Novitzsky says the UFC would never encourage its fighters to take any drugs, but he admits, marijuana is the lesser evil compared to other drugs.
"In a perfect world, they wouldn't have to use anything. But the reality, especially in this sport of MMA, especially at the pinnacle of MMA, the UFC, is the things that they, these athletes put their bodies through generally result in small injuries, nicks and pains," said Novitzky.
"Come fight week, because I have these discussions with fighters all the time, they're asking me, 'Hey, what can I use for pain control? What can I use for anxiety? What can I use for sleep aids?' And what I have to tell them, as I have in the past, 'Well, you want to use marijuana, you can't do that. But you can use other things like opioids, Xanax for anxiety, Ambien for sleep aid,'" he said. "Well, those are tough messages to give because, certainly what the science shows is there's a propensity, way more of a propensity, of addiction for those substances than there is marijuana. So, it's tough to argue with the fact that marijuana can be the lesser of two evils when it comes to substances that athletes use to make themselves feel better."
"But again, I want to make it very clear, the UFC's position would be that athletes not have to use any drugs. But the opposition also is inherently unfair to punish fighters for what they did a week before, a month before, even the night before competition," said Novitzky.
The new marijuana policy from the Nevada State Athletic Commission took effect on July 7. Fighters will still be tested for marijuana for the next six months, and the Athletic Commission still has the right to remove a fighter who appears to be impaired before a fight.